Online:Lost Tales of the Famed Explorer: Fragment III
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For three days they traveled by water, and at night River-Gills would show them where it was safe to stop and rest.
On the first day, River-Gills made them stop under a rocky outcropping on the river bank for several hours without ever saying why. Matius passed the time teaching Riffen about many of the strange plants and animals that occupied the swamp. He was far more interested in those he could not name, but he would not let himself be distracted by thoughts of trapping them for study. There were many-colored birds, giant beetles with shells the size of boulders, and scaled hounds that roamed in packs and fed on the carcasses of gray behemoths. Matius could think of no names for any of them.
By the time they resumed the journey, night was falling. River-Gills assured them this was the time to travel despite protests from the rest of the group. Matius made the call to trust their Argonian guide, and so down the river they continued. Even Salara joined them in gazing into the swamp, as it was now alight with strange luminescent jellies that passed mournfully through the trees.
On the second day, Riffen spotted something and called out, "Look!"
Salara gasped. Matius turned to look and was stricken as speechless as the others. Rising from the mire were great wings of metal, like the wings of a moth. Even through the moss and muck, Matius could make out the twin domes of layered glass eyes. He wondered how magnificent such a thing must have looked whole, whatever it was.
River-Gills did not turn his gaze from the winding river before them. The fins on his head vibrated so quickly they made a low hum.
"We have to stop. I must see this." Salara's voice carried a tremor. She held a hand out to River-Gills.
"We cannot stop," River-Gills said patiently. "A leviathan has been trailing us for some time now."
Salara paused for only a moment, and then jumped from the raft, causing the rest of them to struggle to keep their footing.
"Salara!" Matius yelled out as he tried to shift his weight and balance the raft. "River-Gills, slow us down."
"We cannot stop," said River-Gills.
Salara moved as quickly as she could through the muck, ignoring the protests of the crew. She unfastened her cloak and let it fly free so she could move more easily. She flailed and splashed as she made for the strange moth.
"Lady Salara! Come back!" Riffen yelled.
She trudged slowly now, struggling in the mire. She stopped and began to whisper words of power Matius assumed would aid her movement. He saw she had the broken compass in her hand.
Suddenly, it was as if the swamp itself dragged her down and swallowed her up. She disappeared without making a sound and never resurfaced. Matius could just barely make out the shape of something huge moving through the water. He noticed that even the insects had gone quiet.
Salara's cloak drifted listlessly, the clasp of her order the only thing remaining of her story.
"We cannot stop," said River-Gills.
No one argued. In fact, they did not speak again that day. At night, they slept in a tree the size of a village.
The next morning, Matius woke to find Riffen was gone. He had left a note saying he had seen the torchlight of a nearby settlement from and was going to see if they could help him get back to civilization. He apologized for abandoning them. Matius knew the young man was already dead. River-Gills made no comment when Matius said they were now simply two.
That day they finally returned to hiking, and though it was difficult terrain Matius found he preferred it. Still, his thoughts were troubled by memories of his previous expedition as they traveled. River-Gills would not take him much further, and Matius had no idea what to expect from the next guide. He remembered what it was like to be afraid and alone in Black Marsh.
On the third night River-Gills expanded his fins and began to hiss, and then bade Matius to take shelter in a cave.
River-Gills remained outside, and for the remainder of the night Matius could not sleep. All through the night he swore he could hear chanting and the hissing of snakes. The Argonian reappeared in the morning as if nothing had happened.
"N'buta will see you now," River-Gills said, and when he left he never returned.