“The sergeant, Taz, didn’t have many meaningful thoughts throughout his prolonged captivity, nothing of consequence in his entire mind until he found himself at the very uncomfortable center of attention in an underground city straight out of some half-forgotten myth. Before then, he’d been taken from the site of the attack on the skiffs, forcibly yet somehow without anyone laying an actual hand on him.”
The following scene occurs after one of the supporting characters, Taz, a veteran sergeant is captured following a battle against strange beasts on a desert continent. His entire team has been killed and he is alone hundreds of miles from camp when he encounters people and creatures that aren’t supposed to exist. The Law of the Primes tells the story of a civilization at the peak of its power, but about to collapse when magic reawakens in their world after a periodic meteor shower turns deadly.
The sergeant, Taz, didn’t have many meaningful thoughts throughout his prolonged captivity, nothing of consequence in his entire mind until he found himself at the very uncomfortable center of attention in an underground city straight out of some half-forgotten myth. Before then, he’d been taken from the site of the attack on the skiffs, forcibly yet somehow without anyone laying an actual hand on him. This passivity was despite his always assuming, should it come to that, he’d go down fighting, slain defending his honor or executing his orders, dying with a sword in hand with the hard-earned dignity of a soldier.
He had leapt, fearlessly and fiercely, from the skiff to defend his lord without a second thought, after all. For him, life itself had always been mostly about making a good end; preparing for it with relentless discipline and determination. Even as no real wars had been fought in generations, one could still hope. Now, however, he didn’t even have a sword anymore and it seemed he’d been robbed of far more than the fight. Somehow, he’d lost the most basic ability to think on his own behalf, to act, to believe, accomplish anything at all of his own free will. To be precise, he still moved about the world as if he were in control; an outside observer would note nothing out of the ordinary simply by looking at him, even quite closely. Thoughts still occupied his mind however fuzzy; all his senses worked, he could see, hear, smell, taste the thickened sand on his parched tongue, feel it softer and more slippery beneath his boots.
All told, he knew of nothing specifically wrong, either physically or mentally, except for the filth, grime, and blood covering his armor, exposed flesh, and even underneath his small clothes somehow, not his own, thankfully. Alas, this made it even stranger that he no longer performed any of these normal mental and physical functions of his own accord. The pale men surrounding him in their flowing desert robes and covered faces, almost bone white peeking out around their eyes, silent and still, ghostly as the classic image of a spirit sweeping through some ancient castle, were responsible for everything he did and a good portion of what he thought, whether he liked it or not.
Even stranger, that seemed precisely as it should be, as it always has been, nothing to worry about in the least. This sudden, completely inexplicable change of state began when Taz was on his knees on the golden sands, the red dome of dusk above even more out of reach than usual. It seemed to him, ominously, that a foggy glass wall had been placed betwixt his person and the hereafter, so thick he might never see clearly ever again. The fogginess extended into his thoughts; he was oddly confused, befuddled, not quite sure how he’d gotten so far from the thick of the fighting, however futile even before his strange captors arrived.
The few minutes prior, if it had even been that long, were something of a blur punctuated by moments seared with something more than normal memory. He’d leapt from the deck of the skiff full of rage and fury until contact with the ground came like a haymaker to the chest. There was thick, unforgiving rock a few feet beneath the sand, knocking the wind and courage clear out of him. He was barely able to wheeze, nor move a muscle for several interminable seconds as his sword slipped from his grasp, blade tumbling away in a lazy motion, an arc of silver against the ruddy gold of the desert, like the world was submerged in dirty water. After, he remained practically helpless on his side, beseeching the Primes his lungs would start working again, at least flutter a bit rather than continue shrunken and dead as fleshy prunes, not fit to spit the sand from his mouth.
The Sergeant hadn’t felt so completely defeated since losing his first fight back in Conservatory, when his six-year-old self faced off against a child of ten, earning a black eye and bruised cheek for his efforts. He’d looked up at the older boy from the ignominious dirt, believing he’d lost primarily because of hesitation and fear, a failure to exploit an opportunity to attack. If only he’d fully committed to that first punch to the face and followed up with a second to the gut as he’d planned, it might have been the much larger boy on the ground. At the time, there was nothing to do except pick himself up, dust off his clothes, and set himself to training hard for the next scuffle.
In fact, he’d beat the same boy almost senseless just a few years later, cracking his nose until it spewed blood, his very breath frothed with a hissing sound through the damaged air passage, an image of triumph in his mind to this day. The Sergeant should probably be forgiven this little violent streak, however. He’d grown up poor in a small village off the Barrd’s Pass through the mountains after all, a waystation between the Prime Colonies and the great beyond; the sort of place traders would spend the night and not much else. Fights were frequent for one of his station and swearing an oath fear would never hold him back ever again had seemed quite sensible to a six-year-old, knowing there were more battles to come, sure as the snow in winter.
What else could he have done at the time? Accept defeat and live in fear?
Whatever the case, he couldn’t possibly have known that forty some odd years later, the mere sight of a sand kraken attacking an out-of-control skiff spiraling above would turn his insides to water, surely as if courage itself was flushed right out of him. The body of the doomed craft was coughing up smoke and flames from the stern while the trunk of the kraken was over the rail on the starboard side toward port. No hero, not even the legendary Jyn Lightjumper riding his steel horse, could turn the tide of this battle. The beast would drag the craft down surely as if it were eaten whole or a huge tree had fallen from the sky, the enumerations giving it the power to float above the ground nothing against the terrifying mass of the mottled brown skin and thick, round body.
The only consolation was that the whole thing was being dragged away from his immediate vicinity, not likely to crush him personally. This, as the few men left alive up there tumbled over the sides, anything to escape the vicious front jaws, thankfully hidden by the hull from his angle. A soldier came careening down almost right next him, headfirst, snapping his neck from the fall with an audible crack but no other sound, as though he were too surprised to scream. Taz could only stare at the body lying in a heap, back strangely arched at the knees so the lower torso didn’t quite touch the ground. The black composite helmet was still on, though off center, a bit of blood dribbling out from under, ebony as his armor from this angle, or maybe it was just a shadow.
He wasn’t given long to consider it either way, never learning who it was he’d seen die and did nothing. Before then, the sand itself started shifting slowly, then violently under his sword, still lying a few yards off, as if waiting for him to regain his stomach. Had he completely forgotten it? His own blade? Next, a giant hammer seemed to beat the earth from the inside, pounding away right under him, though from what source he dared not think. The sword bounced in place, once, twice, and again as the grains of sand on the surface vibrated into a shimmering haze, and the earth itself proceeded to pucker up in some warped kiss.
There was a slight depression under the sword, like the ground took a quick, caught breath before exploding into the air, sure as the work of some crazed Sapper. A billowing cloud of dust shot almost straight up, forming a thick, angry plume over thirty-one feet high, coming forth like a geyser of super-heated steam in the Great Salt Basin. Amid the churning sand, a shadow then took shape, something darker and more solid beneath the remaining dust, what could only be the thick hide of a dreaded kraken, coming up out of the ground itself. So, the main body of the beast tore free from the constraints of the earth, lurching out of a hole with a roar, deafening as he’d heard great sharks break the water with their prey already locked in their jaws.
This was no ordinary animal, however. In height, it continued to writhe out of the sand, grinding against the sides for far longer than should’ve been possible, over twenty-nine feet and still largely submerged. The trunk was as large around as one of the massive columns holding up the Halls of Justice at Rhesymon Place or one of the mighty oak trees in the ancient forests of his youth. It blocked a good portion of the sky, like the thing might swallow the clouds themselves given the chance. The main body was strangely arched at the top, bending towards him as the stem of a carnivorous plant rather than anything with a true spine, bearing a full, thick, deadly bloom.
It opened and closed its mouth, hungry, in some sick mimicry of anticipation, so alien in its circular articulation. The rows of curved teeth were accompanied by small tentacles for lips, wriggling as ugly, black worms poking from the dark brown of the body. The whole thing, circular mouth, snake-like, almost pulsating trunk, and all, hung suspended in space for a moment, as if the monster floated of its own will before drawing back slightly, the entire body taut like the string of a crossbow. There was a moment of charged silence as it gathered the energy to strike, broken only by the rushing of blood in the Sergeant’s veins, until it seemed his heart was beating out a rapids, the crashing of a river down a mountain.
He’d been certain his chest would explode, reducing his remains to a bloody puddle, nothing but crimson and guts seeping into the desert, doomed to disappear without a trace…
The kraken hit the ground beside him in a fleshy clap of thunder, yet the Sergeant had no memory of rolling out of the way, only that he’d closed his eyes and the world went black before his lungs finally burst into action. Memory then returned with an explosion all its own, a moment so momentous he could feel the sound, pounding into him, the world’s largest drum beating right inside his head, boom, boom, boom. The smell was overpowering in the same physical fashion, arriving in another wave he could feel in his very bones, almost suffocating, like it spilled over to all his other senses, even blinding him for he couldn’t make out anything past the massive form.
There was only him and the beast, and all too soon the toothy mouth swiveled round methodically once more. He looked up, a feeling akin to encountering a tower on windswept plain, as it loose an oddly triumphant trumpet, as if the thing was blaring its desire and conquest, taunting its victim. The breath rippled down its circular frame in a wave, rolling through the partially emerged tentacles, the ends still hidden beneath the earth, the dark hide glistening in patches with the slime. The sand continued to billow all around, keeping the fullness of the world itself hidden from sight, like a confrontation between the Second Born, battling in the clouds themselves.
The kraken looked down knowingly somehow, though Taz wasn’t certain the thing actually had eyes with which to see anything in any traditional sense. At that point, the only thing truly certain was his imminent death, crushed and eaten by a creature he never imagined existed in the first place, but instead of lurching immediately in his direction, the kraken struck to his right, sure as a bolt of lightning complete with the muted roar of rolling thunder. The Sergeant flinched anyway, life itself a flash before his eyes precisely as the stories always claimed, when the jaws snapped down with an audible crunch on something mostly hidden in the sand.
The body of the fallen soldier, forgotten in the tumult, reduced to the glint of black plate and a smeared shape. The mouth flexed once to be certain of a good hold, then the creature jerked the poor man up by a leg, swallowing him whole in another gulp, armor and all. The roughly human silhouette was still working its way down what passed for a throat when the kraken turned back to the Sergeant again. This third and final time, he just got up and ran for his life…