Part I: A Voice
Palagus lay face down in the cold sand, the waves brushing by his feet. As he slowly came back to his senses he found nearly every muscle in his body aching from the ordeal. Once he was able to regain a bit of his strength he opened his eyes in anguish to find them covered in sea salt. He brushed a paw over his eyes and opened them once more to be enveloped in light. But this slowly faded to reveal the scene around him. He was lying on some unrecognizable beach, the remnants of his ship scattered around him. With great effort he lifted himself from the ground, his muscles crying out in pain from the exertion. When he came to his feet the carnage of the wreck struck him. The bodies of his friends and crew were scattered across the beach. Floating on waves, clutching driftwood in a death grip, and pushing upon the rocks they died upon. Many had been terribly mutilated from the crash. A nearby otter was still clutching a side rail, even though his legs had long been removed, bloodied stumps in their place.
Palagus held back a tear for his fallen comrades, finding he was the only surviver. As the tears began to well up in his eyes a voice came to his ears. "Cry not for them. They are beyond help now, and crying like a babe will not do much for ye." At the sound of this voice Palagus looked around frantically, with the hopes that he was not in fact alone.
Yet all that was to be seen were the dead, and the dark forest nearby. As he once again lost hope in his state he began to wander around the beach, looking for something to help him survive.
After a few hours of fruitless searching of the beach Palagus finally turned to the forest, curious of its secrets.
"If the only other choice is death, then I may as well tempt the unknown."
He lifted up a small spar from the sand and began his cautious journey into the foreboding woods. As he entered the foliage a multitude of sounds came to his ears: The chirruping of insects, the singing of exotic birds, and the wind blowing through the trees like great masts on a ship. He saw strange plants that he could not put a name to, from small fronds to tall goliaths of trees. As he ventured further into the unknown depths of the forest a strange odour began to arise. It was rather sweet at first, yet began to grow foul as he walked on; eventually he was forced to hold a bit of his shirt over his nose to halt the horrid stench.
After about ten minutes of this growing stench he came into a clearing and found its source, a rotting corpse. Its innards had been all but eaten by the various scavengers of the woods, its clothing falling in shreds from its body.
Yet its eyes remained, forever staring at the sky in solemn silence. Palagus wrenched with disgust at its decay, and even more so at the stench that emanated from it. But being a beast of good upbringing he held a moment of silence and a brief bow for whoever this had once been. But as he held this moment a thought came to his mind. Where had he come from? His entire crew had been slain in the wreck and there was no evidence to suggest another ship had crashed upon this island. His curiosity peaked; Palagus slowly came closer to the disfigured body to examine it closer. As he came face to face with its poor remains he found it to be a rat, most of its teeth missing and a few scars that appeared to have been there before his expiration.
"Where did you come from?" He asked himself, prodding the corpse with a stick as he did so.
He moved around the body for a few minutes, inspecting it and dumbstruck in regards to its origin, when suddenly a undulating screech came from the east. He spun around to hear more screams coming from all directions, echoing through his mind. He stood there for a few moments until a arrow hummed through the air and landed in a tree trunk near him. Abandoning all former plans he ran into the woods, seeking no direct path and running for his very life.
As he went through brush and vines the war cries began to grow louder by the moment, soon followed by rustling in the trees above. Yet he ran on, only caring for himself and the fear of being killed or captured by such savages. He looked from side to side, attempting to spot the predator that was trying to hunt him down with such enthusiasm. He soon became so preoccupied by this task that he was no longer watching the route in front of him and snagged his foot on a exposed root, causing him to fall to the earth.
As he tumbled to the forest floor he began to quiver with fright, afraid of what might happen to him. He remained in this state for several minutes as they grew louder, closer. Yet as the terrifying screeching of these primitive creatures grew to its peak, it lessened, falling behind him and away. Getting up from the ground he looked around to see nothing, no rustling in the trees above, no missiles being hurtled at him, even the war cries that once rang through his ears became silent.
Later in the day, as the sun began to sink below the horizon, Palagus still found himself walking through the woods, unsure if he would make it through the night. As he searched high and low for some kind of shelter he heard a dull thundering in the distance. Looking up he saw the treetops begin to sway in the wind. He quickened his pace as he began to feel droplets of rain falling on his back, sweeping his eyes all around the canopy for any kind of shelter. He eventually came to find a tree that held a large cavern at its base. Shielding his head in a feeble attempt to stay dry he crawled into the log to find it quite tall inside. Tired and worn out, Palagus sat down in the middle of the trunk, staring out into the dark night. As the thunder roared and the rain drummed on the bark Palagus slowly began to realize the full scope of what had happened to him.
“I’m going to be here forever.” He said hopelessly, wiping off a tear at the thought that he would never see his friends or family ever again. As he began to openly weep for his losses somebeast spoke from outside.
“Look at ye, crying like a babe who’s lost ‘is toy.”
Palagus wiped a paw over his eyes and looked out into the rain, recognizing the voice from earlier that day. “Who’s there? And why are you hiding from me?”
“I don’t hide from ye, I’m not afraid o’ a wee coward like you.”
Palagus began to strain his eyes in an attempt to sight the stranger. As a flash of lightning lit up the forest Palagus sighted a dark shape among the tall trees.
“Why do you mock me so? Can’t you see that I’ve suffered much this day?”
The voice began to laugh at this, and spoke in a mocking tone “Mock ye do I? Nay, I tell ye naught but the truth. Ye are a coward, a disgrace to real warriors. I would have slain those rats as soon as they began that liddle chant of theirs.”
Palagus stood up in rage at this anonymous creature “And why didn’t you? If you saw me in such danger why would you stand idly by whilst I was being assaulted by those savages!”
“Then ye wouldn’t learn, matey. And what good would ye be to me then, eh?”
Palagus, enraged and insulted, charged outward. Yet in his rage he had forgotten the height of the entrance and slammed his forehead into the top of the door. As he began to drift into a sleep the voice echoed through his mind.
“Ye are a coward; either grow strong or die in the bushes and let real warriors go ahead.”
Part II: The First Taste
Palagus woke with a throbbing headache and felt his forehead to find a sizeable lump had formed where his head struck the tree. As the pain subsided, or at the least grew bearable, he crawled through the door back into the woods. As he looked around he found himself flanked by two of the vermin, and finally got a good idea of who his predator was.
They appeared to be tall, lanky rats. Garbed in rotted cloth and leaves they were quite a barbaric sight. In their paws were held primitive weapons, spears and a stone dagger, yet one look into their eyes revealed a excited savagery that suited their appearance, they knew how to use their arms.
Palagus lowered himself almost to the ground when one of the rats turned his way, fearing their motives. He crawled along the side of the tree as quietly as he could, watching every step he made. Yet as he grew farther away from them the voice returned.
“Yew cur! They’re right there! Jus’ go kill ‘em now, they would never know what hit them.”
“Shush, or they might hear you” Said Palagus in a hushed tone. He once again scanned all about him in vain for the source of this voice, seeing only the green of the trees and the dirt beneath him yet the voice continued to speak.
“Maybe it’d be good for them t’ hear me. Maybe they might just attack; ye’d do what I tell ye then.”
He attempted to block the voice from his mind and keep on task but only succeeded in magnifying it.
“What happened to that rage last night, eh? You would run into the rain at a few insults yet ye will not do so for a few measly vermin?!”
He once again tried to shush the voice, but as he turned around to try and see it he was greeted by the wooden tip of a spear. He looked up to the vermin’s face to see a smile spreading across its face. He said a few words yet they were some kind of strange tribal tongue as he could not understand a single word of it, though a translation would not be needed for its plans. The rat’s companion began to unwind a long piece of vine behind him, coiling some around his arm and looking viciously at Palagus.
He slowly tried to back away from the vermin, but as he made a step back the vermin thrust his spear forward, missing his face by an inch and embedding it in his foot. Palagus leapt up and, in some instinctual movement, kicked out at the rat. It stumbled backwards and into a trunk, with a resounding crack as its head hit the bark. Seeing this outburst of violence his companion lashed out a stone knife and jabbed at Palagus. He quickly rolled onto his back as the knife sliced through the air where he had been moments before. As the rat pulled the knife back for a second thrust Palagus, with barely a thought to his actions, swung his fist down hard upon the rat’s arm, knocking the rat flat on the ground with a hard thump. He stared down at the rat, unsure of his next move when the voice spoke again.
“Kill it! He is at your mercy!” It yelled
In a single moment of bloodlust and anger Palagus thrust down the knife, burying it deep into the rat’s neck. As the rat contorted and grasped at its neck on the ground; Palagus stood back in the horror of what he had done, dropping the knife to the ground. After several agonizing moments the rat became still and unmoving, blood flowing freely from its wound.
“He…He’s dead.” Said Palagus in utter disbelief that he could do such a thing
“Feel no sorrow for that scum, he would have done worse to ye given the chance.” While this would have brought tears to the eyes of most creatures, Palagus’ features remained hard, holding back the guilt of killing another beast.
“If I am to be a killer, than I wish to at least see the face of my instructor.”
“Alright then, come over here.” Palagus walked in the direction of the voice, following its directions until he came unto a small pool of water created by last night’s rain. He looked around the area to find he was still alone, and the voice had gone silent. He sat down in frustration in front of the pool, smacking his paw against its surface. Yet as he looked into the pool a dark realization came upon him. As he looked at the reflective surface he did not see himself, but another creature. Its features were gaunt and a few scars covered its face. It wore a slim smile of satisfaction and darkness in its eyes that seemed to come from the depths of its black heart.
“What is this?!” He shouted in confusion
“Why it is you, my dear friend.” Said the reflection
“This is not me! I carry no scars, no such light in my own eyes. This creature is not I!”
“Ah but it is. The face is yours, the scars, the looks, but not perhaps the eyes.”
“Have I gone mad? Has my mind gone so far as to twist my mind into something I am not?”
“Do not think this is new. It has always been there, lurking in the back of your mind, bringing you dark thoughts that you ignored before, but now obey.”
“Then why have I not heard your voice before this day?”
“I have not had such an….. equal standing in your mind until today. But stop with these simple questions, their tribe may be here soon.”
Taking this advice with a silent regret Palagus leaping into the trees and dissapeared into the canopy.