Ria

PG-13 The Uncharted Land

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The first rays of dawn spread across The Seer. The sound of waves crashing against her, day and night, never quite faded to the back of the mind, but the inexperienced crew found themselves getting used to it. Most were asleep below deck, leaving only a few to see to the ship's operation: the navigator squinted through the morning sun, a few riggers sat dozing while they awaited orders, and Corine Selwyn climbed to the crow's nest.

 

She leaned against the guard rail and wiped a calloused hand against her brow. The chill of morning did little to cool her from the night's work. It had been her duty to board up leaks, check the integrity of the sails, direct the riggers, make sure the riggers didn't fall, and continually write reports that crewmen lacked the knowledge to write themselves. Still, she smiled as she looked to the horizon; the journey would soon be over, and then the real job would begin.

 

She decided to give the ship one quick, final look over before getting some sleep. She closed her eyes, knelt down and placed both hands palm-down on the boards of the crow's nest. Starting with the bow and working back, she felt with her mind for any areas in need of repair. From her perspective, the world was hazy, colors lacked definition, and she could feel each creaking board and wave against the hull. Finding nothing out of place from her last inspection, she stood and opened her eyes.

 

For a moment, she thought she imagined it. She blinked and held up a hand to shield her eyes from the sun. There was no mistaking what she saw in the distance; they must have been further ahead of schedule than she thought. A grin crossed her face.

 

“Land ho!†she shouted.

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Aer awoke to scuffling and chattering, the first parting of his eyelids yielding the sight of burly seamen pushing their way through the corridors between bunks. His ears gathered from the chatter that land had been sighted, they were to go ashore to explore finally. Finally.

 

Although Aer kept being told they were well ahead of schedule, to him it felt as if they'd been at sea for years on end. He didn't much care for the sea, but unfortunately crossing it was the only way to reach the new lands that did interest him. The dreary day-to-day routine of the ship, with nothing but the same damned sea in all directions every day, was the exact opposite of Aer's interests. He was part of this crew to take part in discovering new lands, different things. He could suffer the dull sameness of sea travel only for the chance at excitement and challenge once they began to explore a new land.

 

He flung his scraggly long hair out of his eyes and rolled out of his bunk as soon as the traffic of bodies passed - boots on, bag packed, and ready to go. He clinked and creaked as he arose, all manner of buckles and leather straps about his clothing sounding off. He carefully swung his legs around, minding the short swords strapped to both his thighs.

 

His position as one of the joint expedition leaders did afford him a more private cabin room to himself, however he preferred to sleep among the rest of the men out of a sense of paranoia - anyone wanting to kill him could find his private room easily, but they'd never be able to find him amidst the crowded bunks of the rest of the crew. Of course the chance of being killed on the ship was slim, but Aer wasn't one to ignore possible threats, especially given his whole purpose in being part of the expedition was to ensure security.

 

Shielding his face from the morning sun still low on the horizon with one scarred hand, Aer trudged up the stairs onto the main deck. The crew was busy with the sails and directing the ship toward the sighted land, as well as preparing the boats and supplies to go ashore. Aer had all the equipment he'd need in his carry bag already, the only possessions he left on the ship were spare parts, clothes, and specialized equipment he wouldn't need for general purposes.

 

He didn't see the others on deck yet, although Corine was likely still on duty up above. It wouldn't have been the regular crew who'd sighted the land, Aer supposed, watching with disdain as one of the crewmen lugged a trunk full of supplies up onto the deck with such lazy, sluggish speed that he might've been sleepwalking. The other reason it was good they'd finally sighted land was that Aer was very close to killing some of the crew.

 

Aer stood near the rail and loaded his flintlock pistols. He was looking forward to "meeting" who or what they may run into on that speck of land growing larger before him. His mouth cracked into a grin and there was a peculiar glint in his eyes.

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The Seer had reached its destination. Corine, had called Land and Jynx immediately jumped out of bed. She was a light sleeper from years of being on ships. Always ready and alert in case there was a problem that needed to be fixed. Jynx had grown up on a boat with just her and her father until she was 16. The only reason she had left 3 years ago was because she felt she had to travel the world on her own, meet new people, discover new places. That was why she had joined this crew. Though she hadn't really gone off by herself, Jynx had her pet bird Uloo, a bright pink Galah Cockatoo. As Jynx started to finish packing her bag and getting dressed Uloo flew around the room.

 

"Hurry up slow-poke! -raaahhh," The parrot demanded.

 

"I am going as fast as I can Uloo!!!" Jynx replied.

 

She was stuffing extra clothes and fishing supplies into her pack. The truth was Jynx was very nervous about exploring the land on foot. She was so comfortable on a boat that the idea of exploring in any other fashion was very foreign to her. Her main source of food had always been fishing, she was an expert with a harpoon or a fishing rod. On land she wasn't sure how well her talents would come into play. She would probably have to rely on the rest of the crew heavily. Her bag was finally packed and she swung it over her shoulder and pushed through the crowds below until she was finally on deck.

 

Jynx stretched her arms up above her head as the wind blew through her long platinum blonde hair sending it flowing behind her. Jynx only stood at 5'3'', but she was very athletically built from years of sailing. Her uncovered bright grey-blue eye looked towards their destination. Her other eye was covered by a black eye patch with two pink hearts on it. This eye no longer worked because of an accident when Jynx was much younger, she didn't really remember what happened and her father never spoke about it. So most times to avoid awkwardness she just told people she was born that way. She wore a pink sports bra type top and long cut up jean shorts that went down to just above her knees along with black sneakers. A couple of the men who came up on deck said good morning to Jynx. She was such a bubbly person that she made friends with everyone quite easily. Most people aboard the ship knew her, especially since the voyage had been so long. She had a child-like personality that made her endearing to a lot of people.

 

Uloo flew around the ship as Jynx made polite conversation. He flew high up to the crow's nest where Corine was and whistled a sweet hello before he dived back down to deck and fluttered a landing on Jynx's shoulder. Jynx spotted Aer loading his pistols and skipped over to him.

 

"Morning!" She said a bit too loud and with lots of pep.

She leaned over kind of in his way staring at his gun. "You think were gonna need that?" She sounded a bit worried.

 

Her innocence could sometimes be annoying depending on the person's disposition. Jynx had grown up in a ship bubble so to say so she was still very new to the idea that not everyone wanted to be friends. 

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Some days he would wake up and curse that he ever decided to join in this expedition. In an attempt to earn his father’s respect he got blinded by his own eagerness, preventing him from being fully aware of what he was committing to the moment he stepped aboard The Seer. If the days and nights aboard the bobbing ship had taught Solaris Lowell one thing, it would be that the pirate’s life is not for him. It was at times like these that he counted his blessings to have been born into a wealthy merchant’s family. Before his birth it had already been decided by his father that Sol that he would spend his life on academics and so called ‘gentleman’s sports.’

 

Too bad none of his university classes or fencing lessons helped him prepare for a journey by ship.

 

The one thing Sol could find solace in was that all the crewmembers had far too much work to do for them to be able to bother him with any inane questions. He glad to be able to spend entire days in his private cabin, scribbling into his journal or practicing his fencing, despite the fact that the perpetually moving ship seemed to be doing everything in its power to make it harder for Sol to keep his sanity. As was usual for him he had sunk too deep into his own thoughts to hear Corine’s shout when she announced that land had been found. Still furiously engaged in his own writing, it took several knocks on his cabin door for him to realize that someone required his attention.

 

“Come in,†he replied shortly before dipping his quill in his ink bowl.

 

The door slammed open, not even getting the chance to produce its usual creaking sound, and revealed that it was none other than Gareth, Sol’s assistant, who had been knocking. “Thank heavens. I would’ve gone insane if one more of those illiterate apes had asked me to write a letter for them. What is it?†Without waiting for a reply Sol had returned to writing, not letting a moment waste.

 

“We found land, sir.â€

 

Sol lifted his gaze off the notebook and stared at Gareth with a mixture of surprise and elation. He would finally get off this damned ship! Excited for the feeling of steady land underneath his feet he rose, grabbed his long navy blue cloak and made way for the door. After closing the door Gareth, who was a good bit shorter than Sol, had to rush in order to keep up with Sol’s pace. The young man went up the stairs towards the deck and, not even climbing the last step onto the deck, quickly gazed onto the horizon. Never in the 25 years of his life had he ever been as happy as he was today. Just as quickly as he had appeared on the deck he turned around and shoved Gareth, who was still waiting for Sol to move so he could get on deck himself, aside.

 

Not wishing to waste any time, he reached for his satchel and made sure that all his writing and sketching equipment was present. After patting his chest he confirmed that his two daggers were still attached to the inside of his coat, meaning that the only thing missing was the rapier his father had presented to him as a gift celebrating his fencing prowess. While fastening his rapier to the belt of his coat he gave the contents of his cabin one last glance, confirming that he had everything he needed.

On top of the ship’s deck he noticed that the crewmembers were ecstatic. Sol could not help but smile, knowing that many of them shared the same joy.

 

"You think we’re gonna need that?"

 

The sound of a familiar voice made Sol turn around. The innocently ignorant young lady known as Jynx was talking to Aer. Despite having spent at least half of his time on the ship in his cabin, Sol had picked up on the personalities of the people he would have to complete his mission with., so it did not take more than a remote amount of intelligence to realize that bothering the bad-tempered Aer was a recipe for disaster.

“It is always better to have and not need, madam,†he said as he tapped the hilt of his rapier.

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The crew gathered above deck with impressive expediency. Corine watched with a smile as some took their posts, some rushed to the bow to get a better look at the land before them, and others exchanged jokes and excited chatter. Some even emerged from the galley with mugs of ale. Corine couldn't blame them for celebrating; the weeks had dragged on, and she was starting to forget what it felt like to walk on solid ground.
 

She was so wrapped up in her thoughts that she didn't notice the bizarrely-colored parrot until it was practically in front of her face. She started at its greeting, stumbled back and barely stopped herself from falling. She regained her balance and dropped to her knees as she tried to slow her racing heart and a laugh rose up from below. She gave the gawkers a sour look, got to her feet and put her hands on her hips.
 

“Hey, you layabouts!†she yelled at the men with the mugs. “This thing won't sail itself! Get to work, and do it sober!â€
 

“Aye, cap'n,†said one of them mockingly. “Watch yer footin' on the way down.†The drinking crew laughed and dispersed.
 

Corine sighed. The ship lacked a proper captain, but she had been placed in charge of the mission alongside a few others. Mostly, she directed maintenance, though she had the authority to command anyone but her equals. The commoners had made it clear from the day they set sail that they didn't respect her position. Still, land was approaching and there had been minimal issues during the voyage. That was all she could ask for.
 

Below her, the other leaders began to gather. Corine slid down the ladder to join them.

 

“Mornin', everyone!†she said as she approached. She glared at the parrot. “Mornin', Uloo.â€

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Aer snapped shut the frizzen of his pistol with a punctuating clack. "There's some dangerous creatures in this world, but the most dangerous ones are the ones we don't know about yet."

 

He couldn't count himself much surprised by Jynx's innocence by now. He'd long noted that while she was perhaps the most indispensable member of the crew while aboard the ship, she would be probably be the first person to die once they went ashore. Aer would try to prevent that of course - he didn't want a one-way trip, and he didn't figure any of the regular crew could be trusted to guide the ship to any degree of success. Maybe that fancy-boy, if any of those books of his was a guide to navigation and sailing, but Aer didn't really trust theory compared to practical experience. He also thought it likely Sol would be the second to die anyway, the wilderness of an unknown island was no place for a stuffy scholar with a decorative sword.

 

Corine joined the group and so they were finally all assembled.

 

"Yeah lovely mornin'." Aer grunted sarcastically, "Let's see how many of us make it to say goodnight."

 

Aer had been a damper on crew morale most of the journey. Anytime he happened across drinking crewmen blabbering about the riches and native women likely awaiting them on the islands they were looking to come across, he'd sour the mood by talking about cursed treasures and man-eating native men who didn't take kindly to slack-jawed outsiders ogling their women. Every time the ship rocked in a sudden gust or swell and the crew laughed it off, Aer would speculate as to the high probability of sea monsters in the unexplored seas batting at the hull of the ship curiously. Unfortunately his attempts to inspire caution in the crew had been overdone so much that they now just thought him cranky and negative for the sake of it, and didn't really believe him at all anymore. A fact which only made Aer even more cranky and negative.

 

The ship soon approached the shallows and the crew were ready to lower the boats they'd go ashore in. Aer wasted no time jumping into one, so eager he was to be off the ship and on land already. However, he found the group of regular crewmen who were coming ashore too seemed to be avoiding the boat he'd picked - it was almost like he wasn't popular or something.

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Jynx listened to everyone, noting Sol, how he motioned to his fancy sword. Her eyes lit up a little as she responded,

 

"Shiny! You just have the nicest stuff don't you Sol, wow!"

 

She didn't mean 'shiny' in the sense that the sword was shiny, that was just a little word she used to mean fancy or special. She waved hi to Corine as she approached,

 

"Morning!"

 

Jynx replied back and then Uloo let out a whistle like men make to beautiful women. It was funny how much he had taken to Corine, and how much Corine seemed to dislike Uloo. Jynx then spun around as Aer talked. Her face got a bit more serious and determined as she nodded in agreement. While most people waved off his warnings Jynx was very used to this type of forward thinking, he father had been similar, so she took his words to heart.

 

"Then I guess I will need a weapon, huh..."

 

She thought for a moment. Her face scrunched up, biting her bottom lip, clearly deep in thought. When lightning struck her facial expression radically changed to overt happiness.

 

"I got just the thing!"

 

She ran to the side of the ship and left everyone as they got into the boats. As Jynx took off Uloo flew up as to not be dragged in her pursuit.

 

Uloo simply fluttered over to Corine and took a seat on her shoulder. "rahh - time to leave -" and then he gave another little whistle.

 

Jynx finally jumped into the last boat that left the ship. She had a large trident harpoon in hand. She was an expert at fishing, and there for her skills with a harpoon might be able to turn into a fairly good weapon on land. Once they reached land she ran over back to Aer and showed him what she had grabbed.

 

"This'll work right Aer?"

 

Jynx thought maybe they would think she couldn't be very accurate so before they disapproved she looked around at all the trees on the shore line. She saw one with large strange fruit in it and threw her harpoon. The string part was fastened to her wrist, so after the weapon had soared through the air and hit the target, she pulled it back to her. Taking the fruit off the end of the trident she examined it.

 

"Huh, I wonder what this tastes like." It was a medium sized looking apple, but it was purple. She sniffed it and then looked as if she were going to possibly take a bite. 

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It was finally time for the expedition party to set foot ashore, but before that Sol had one last choice to make. He could either join the disorderly crewmen on one of their boats or elect for silence and accompany the grumpy warrior. Scholars and fighters seldom get along, but it was decided that the worth of silence and peace of mind weighed heavier than that of comfort… in fact it would probably be a bit more comfortable on a boat with just Aer instead.

"Gareth, come," he shouted as he jumped into Aer's boat. Gareth had no time to protest Sol's demand, clearly preferring not to share a boat with these two. 

When Sol had first boarded this ship he had offered ten gold coins to the crewmember who would serve as his assistant, all the joy Gareth felt at that time had washed away when he realized that it meant that he was nothing more than Sol's slave. The only reason Gareth stood up with the spoiled scion's oftentimes unreasonable demands was the fact that he could sustain his family for no less than three months with the coin Sol had given him.

"What are you waiting for? Start rowing, you buffoon!†Before Sol had the chance to berate Gareth some more, the sailor started rowing the boat as fast as he could, most likely in a rush to get rid of Sol as fast as possible. Sol lightly shrugged, gesturing that he couldn’t blame Gareth.

 

Before long they had reached the shore, by the time Sol set foot on land several of the crew members had already been busy parading along the beach. Walking on the sand with his leather boots was a less than pleasant experience, but nothing could be worse than the rocking ship he had finally left. The thought of having to cross the ocean back to his home was quickly shoved into the darkest corner of his mind to prevent it from spoiling his moment of joy. While still fully relaxed and enjoying this moment, a harpoon flew past him. Remarkably it managed to hit home on an unknown type of fruit and was then jerked back to its owner by means of a string.

 

The young Jynx, who seemed to be the perpetrator, was toying with the idea of eating the unknown fruit. “Stop,†he yelled as he knocked the fruit out of the girl’s hand. “Are you daft, girl?†He made no efforts to conceal the usual condescension in the tone of his voice. “Don’t eat anything you find here before we’ve examined their toxicity. If you’re hungry, feel free to go and plunder the ship’s rations.†It wasn’t unusual for Sol to talk to his fellow human beings as if they were children, even though he was but 5 winters older than the naïve young lady.

 

No longer feeling the urge to babysit Jynx, he turned back and faced the island once more. Despite the width of the beach, reaching into the horizon, it did not go far into the land. It took no more than a dozen steps for Sol to reach a thick forest bordering on the sand. He quickly treaded upon the steady soil and took a moment to listen for any signs of life in the forest. As was usual, even in his homeland, he could hear the cries of birds and various insects, but other than that it was eerily quiet. The thought of predators waiting for their prey to stumble into the shadows sent shivers down Sol’s spine. He took little comfort in the rapier hanging from his hip, the duelling sword would be a proficient weapon against a human adversary, but its uses against wildlife were quite limited.

 

Luckily he had another weapon, probably slightly more effective than his rapier. “Aer, would you like to take the lead?â€

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“Let's see how many of us make it to say goodnight.â€

Corine couldn't think of a response to Aer's comment. Though the crew was in a celebratory mood and she herself felt a weight lifted from her shoulders, her gruff colleague had a point. Soon, the crew of The Seer would be facing unknown dangers. Corine let the thought sober her. She would need a clear mind to do her part in making the mission a successful, non-fatal one.

As the boats were made ready, Corine remained lost in thought. She was shaken from her reverie by sudden fluttering and a sharp squawk.

“rahh – time to leave –â€

“Mother of–!†Corine locked eyes with Uloo. She sighed. “You've gotta stop sneaking up on me...â€

Jynx had run off, and Sol and Gareth were joining Aer in his boat. Corine rubbed her eyes. “Well,†she said to the parrot, “I suppose sleep can wait. We'll have to keep that lot outta trouble.â€

She returned to her quarters briefly to gather the essentials, all of which she had set aside along with a backpack far in advance: clean water, rations, a basic toolkit, a torch, some rope, a machete, and an auto-loading crossbow she had built herself. This model lacked the rapid-fire capabilities of earlier prototypes, but it hardly ever jammed and she had only injured herself with it twice; a marked improvement. With her equipment in tow, she headed out.

*******

Corine was the last of the four commanders to arrive on shore. Immediately, Jynx had to be stopped from eating mysterious island fruit. “Off to a good start,†Corine muttered.

More crew arrived on boats. Corine turned to face them. “All right, men,†she said. “Secure the area. We'll camp here. Post guard and don't let anyone or anything near. We need firewood, and see what food you can scrounge up.†She quickly glanced over her shoulder at Jynx. “And try not to poison yourselves.â€

They grunted affirmatives and set about their jobs. Some of the louder men took over giving orders. Others dared their fellows to try a bite of the purple fruit. A few even unsheathed their weapons and placed bets on who could land the biggest prize.

“Remember!†said Corine, “If anything lives here, we don't fight what we don't need to!†No one seemed to hear her. She shook her head and turned to regroup with the others.

“Time to scout.†She drew her crossbow and held it over her shoulder.

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Jynx looked a bit upset as Sol knocked the fruit out of her hand and called her daft. She wore a little frown on her face for a while after even though she knew he was probably right. Jynx had her harpoon over her shoulders, hands resting on top as she walked around. Uloo stood on the left side of the harpoon, it was a nice little perch for him. 

 

Jynx heard Corine call out, "Try not to poison yourselves." Jynx rolled her eyes. 

 

"You try to eat one lil' fruit...and everyone gets on ya'r case. jeeez!" She kicked up some sand by her feet in frustration.

 

It was time to scout so Jynx chose to stay on the shore line going East down the beach. Some crew men accompanied her. At first there seemed to be nothing of interest. There were more weird fruits in trees. Jynx had the men collect as many as they could carry. They could at least test the toxicity of each species and see what they could eat. Jynx assumed they had brought some equipment that could do this, it was an exploration mission after all. This only took a couple minutes before they all began to head back to camp. Some of the men made snide comments about Jynx and the fruit, to which she ignored them and went back into a bit of a tiff. She was shuffling down the sand, kicking some up with a scowl on her face, when she noticed a rustling from the tree line.

 

They hadn't really gone too far when what looked like a boar came out of the woods. Jynx's eye got big in amazement, this guy was just walking around like no big deal all out in the open. Jynx smiled thinking that he would make for an excellent dinner for everyone. The praise she would receive and how great it would be to be the first person to catch anything went to her head quickly. Jynx didn't stop to think that there might be anything different about this animal. Also, the words of Corine, saying that we didn't want to fight any of the local island inhabitants, for some reason to Jynx, did not apply to animals. She knocked Uloo off the harpoon as she aimed it ready to throw. First she raised up her hand so all the men behind her knew to be still and quiet. They too were thinking the same way as Jynx, the idea of fresh boar made them giddy and hungry. Jynx steadied the weapon and took a deep breath in. Everything was lined up perfectly.

 

Uloo flew high above the boar and looked down. The parrot noted that this boar seemed very different from the ones they new of, for instance he had a third tusk on his chin. Also his pelt seemed to be...armor like. Instead of fur it seemed to look like pieces of rock. This boar was also double the size of a regular boar. 

 

The parrot whistled back to Jynx, "Not a good idea! Not a good idea!"

 

By then it was too late. Jynx let her harpoon fly and if this had been a normal animal they would have been dragging it back to camp victorious. This was not what happened though. The harpoon instead bounced off the boar like creature similar to if she had thrown a regular stick. It did succeed in knocking him over, but when he got back up he began to charge at Jynx and the rest of her group. As the creature attacked Jynx and the rest of the group ran back to camp. The animal, not fast enough to catch them yet, kept up his pursuit. Some of the men were still trying to hold the exotic fruit as they ran and were screaming. Others with pistols, dropped the fruit, and turned around trying to shoot the animal, but they were all terrible shots and missed. Jynx was at the front of the pack as she ran waving her arms around frantically yelling. What ever was coming out of her mouth was incomprehensible, but Uloo flew over to everyone and explained the situation. 

 

"Brah - Jynx's fault -- Jynx's fault -- Jynx's fault ! "

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Aer somehow was not surprised to hear gunshots suddenly. And of course, Uloo appearing to herald the bad news was right on time.

He'd thought it a safe enough idea to let Jynx mind the camp and forage along the shoreline with most of the crew while he and the others headed further inland. But all the while that they'd ventured slowly into the jungle, he'd had a nagging feeling that she was going to get into trouble somehow. The most likely thing he suspected was that they'd return to find the camp improperly set up or not at all. He even considered it likely they'd set up too close to the sea and the tide would wash it all away by the time they returned.

Still, all they'd found so far were trees and plants, so Aer wasn't much displeased with the revelation that the others had encountered some sort of life to open fire upon.

Aer surged into action straight away, diverting toward the sound of the gunshots and dashing ahead of the group. Whether or not they kept up with him was their problem (and certainly the ship was not large enough for there to be any indication how fast any of them were compared to each other). It didn't take long to break through the trees to the shoreline again, given their push inward had been so slow compared to his mad dash outward again.

Luckily enough, where Aer emerged was ahead of the boar-creature and its precession of fleeing crewmen. He was a good shot but he didn't think he had much chance of hitting a target moving at such speed, and there was a large chance that the earlier gunfire failing to stop the creature meant guns weren't effective in the first place. Close and personal it would have to be. He ran forward to intercept their path, both his shortswords at the ready.

As the boar-creature passed by, Aer leapt at it and sank his swords into the craggy gaps between chunks of the creature's armoured hide. One sword seemed to sink deep, while the other stopped shallow but held caught between the armoured plates. Aer made the split second decision to hold onto the swords, and pulled himself onto the creature's back. He gripped the hilts of his swords tightly, struggling to get the rest of his body into a stable position on the beast. His legs dragged through the sand sporadically as he tried to swing his legs up.

The boar-creature hadn't reacted to the wounds other than to groan angrily. It made attempts to shake Aer off it, but its primary target remained the scattering crewmen ahead of it.

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It wouldn’t be a stretch to assume that the people sent on the scouting trip were less than impressed with what they had found up until now. Most of them dragged their feet with a dead expression on their face, the excitement from having discovered a new world nowhere to be found. The same could not be said about Solaris. At every turn, behind every brush, there was a new species of flora that he had never seen at home. If it were up to him he would pick all of these plants and then examine them for hours, not resting until they held no more secrets for him. As was slowly becoming custom, Sol was rudely jerked out of his dreams by the sounds of trouble; gunshots.

It seemed like Aer realized just as swift as Sol what had happened and he wasted no time in running towards their aid. Whereas Aer decided to sprint towards the sound of danger, Sol preferred running in a slightly slower pace. Half of the scouting group had already followed Aer’s lead and the other half ran with Sol. “I swear there has to be a limit to how dumb people can be. If it was that girl’s stupidity that caused this trouble I’ll give a golden coin to the one who strangles her in her sleep,†he muttered, quietly hoping that the ones following him were at least intelligent enough to realize that he was merely annoyed and did not wish the girl serious harm.

“Ye serious, m’lord?â€

Apparently at least one of them wasn’t.

“Of course I’m not serious you buffoon. We're supposed to be explorers, not murderers." The remainder of the run back Sol kept quiet, the mood for conversation spoiled by his dim-witted subordinate. By the time they reached the camp Sol was greeted by the sight of Aer riding on the back of an armoured boar. When its attempts to shake off Aer turned out to be unsuccessful, it fully committed to trampling whatever was in its path, including several crewmembers and Jynx. “Get away from me!†He picked up a decently large rock as the men around him scattered. Please don’t miss, please don’t miss, please don’t miss, he prayed as he threw the rock at the boar, hoping to grab its attention.

Sol’s prayers were heard as the rock struck home, hitting the boar right on its snout. Not wasting a single second, the boar turned its attention towards the cause of its ire quickly following Sol as the scholar ran as fast as he could back into the jungle. Praying that the rules of boar hunting applied towards this beast, despite its obvious biological differences, he searched for an easily climbable tree. When he found one, he started climbing as fast as he could. Never having done any sports that involved climbing of any kind, he noticed that his agility was slightly lacking, luckily for him the distance between him and the boar was enough to compensate for his slow ascension.

 

By the time the boar reached the trunk of the tree, Sol was already a good 5 meters of the ground. Still agitated, the boar started circling around the tree, every once in a while shaking its body in an attempt to throw Aer off its back. “It stopped charging, someone please kill it now before it learns how to climb. Please.â€

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Corine stayed near the front of the scouting group, keeping her eye out for danger. She helped clear a path by cutting thick plant-growth with her machete, but often hesitated to do so. Old, retired explorers told stories of the undiscovered lands. Most were thought to be either mad or simply trying to scare children. Regardless, grisly tales of man-eating plants had stuck in Corine's mind. Wherever she could, she sheathed the machete and moved the plants aside. She didn't want to touch them, but she didn't need to. She would reach out her hand and her mind, and the plants would slowly move aside. This was safer, she decided, but the looks from the crew made her question whether it was worth it. Those looks brought back memories.

The short trip was interrupted by gunshots. Aer wasted no time getting back to camp.

“Wait!†said Corine. “We need to stick together!†It was no use; if Aer had heard her, he didn't let on.

Corine cursed under her breath. Half of the scouting party followed Aer. Sol led the rest back, and Corine stayed with him. “Whatever is happening,†she said, “we've gotta be careful. We're no help to anyone if we rush into danger.â€

They broke through the treeline to find Aer riding a giant rock-boar.

“Like...like I said. Careful.†Somehow, her voice lacked conviction.

The remaining scouts immediately split up. Some took up arms, some hid behind trees, and some found themselves being chased along with Jynx and the other crewmembers.

Corine's mouth was dry. They had barely arrived. She had tried to steel herself to face the beasts of the island, but this? This is...a monster, she thought. She didn't even have the presence of mind to ready her crossbow.

A rock struck the boar's snout. Corine realized it had come from Sol, standing just feet away from her. The boar charged, and she dove for cover. Luckily for her, its sights were set elsewhere. Sol scrambled up a tree, and the boar circled him, watching with hungry eyes.

“It stopped charging,†said Sol. “Someone please kill it now before it learns how to climb. Please.â€

Corine took a deep breath to steady her heartbeat, then rushed to a nearby tree. She leaned to the side and took aim. “Aer! Turn it this way!†She flipped a mechanism; a bolt clicked into place, and Corine locked her sights on the boar's unprotected eyes. It took all of her willpower to keep her finger from shaking as it hovered over the trigger. Once she saw an opening, she fired.

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Jynx watched from behind a crate as the shot Corine fired sunk deep into the armored boar's eye. The beast came to an abrupt stop and keeled over with Aer atop of him. Jynx stood up as Uloo flew over back to her shoulder.


 


The parrot gave a long whistle before saying, "You really did it this time - rah!"


 


Jynx timidly walked over to everyone now crowding around the boar. While this should be an occasion to celebrate since they could now have a nice feast, Jynx knew the other commanders were going to be furious with her. She pulled all of her hair to one side and nervously ran her hand through it. She gulped hard before choking out a responce to break the silence. 


 


"Sooo  I guess were eatin' Boar tonight? ..Heh..." Jynx scratched the top of her head. Though she was anticipating any hits from her companions. Ready to run away at a moments notice. "Sorry about that... I um... yea." She left it with those bumbling words. This seemed like a good place to put her foot in her mouth. No more talking from Jynx. Actually no more anything. She was gonna try and stay out of trouble as much as possible from now on. But as her clever name suggested, she was prone to this type of behavior.  Her eyes scanned the faces of Corine, Sol, and Aer. Even Uloo was mad at her as the parrot pecked at the side of her head. 


 


"OW ULOO!" She said trying to flap the bird away as she spun in a circle. Eventually she dizzied herself and fell down onto the sand. Uloo took off from her and landed on top of the boar. He pecked at its head and gave a little commentary. 


 


"Bra - Dead as a doornail - " and then another long whistle. 


 


Jynx laid down on the sand and looked up at the sky. They had barely been there very long and this was all a lot to take in. What would the next couple days, let alone weeks bring. 


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Aer was glad that gambling on relying on his allies had paid off this time. Although his clinging to the beast didn't slow it down as much as he'd intended, it had at least allowed him to pull it around for Corine to take her shot. For a split second before she fired, Aer had a feeling of dread upon realising that if she missed she might hit him in the face instead. Thankfully, she was a good shot.

There didn't seem to be much point to lecturing Jynx about this event. Aer couldn't think of any words which would magically allow her to stop making poor decisions. Besides, right now there were too many eyes about. The previously fleeing crew were milling about expectantly.

"What did that bit of running tire the lot of you out? Get a move on and get that beast dragged back to camp, looks like we'll be having meat for dinner tonight." he ordered, yanking his swords out of the beast's body with some effort. He supposed Sol would probably want to dissect the thing or something, but either way getting it stored away somewhere in the camp was the first step. Sol could deal with the crew if he meant to deprive them of a meat dinner.

Once the crew started to disperse, Aer approached Jynx, having finally decided on his words. "I'll give you a piece of advice. As one of the leaders of this expedition, don't show the crew any weakness. You should know your mistakes and correct them, but never admit to them. This situation is resolved, letting the crew know you completely screwed up will only make things worse. Better to stick to the fact everyone is still alive and we've got a nice dinner out of this."

"Although in future, I think either myself or Corine should stick with you." he concluded.

Aer was impressed with Corine's steady marksmanship. Previously he'd only figured himself to be capable should combat situations arise, but now he was glad to see Corine at least was capable in that area too.

"Nice shot." he said to her. Although it sounded simple enough, coming from Aer it was high praise.

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The moment Corine’s arrow struck true, Sol breathe a sigh of relief. No longer having a reason to cling to the tree he started struggling to get down. By the time he had set foot back on land Jynx was in the middle of her apology, but Sol did not pay it any mind, leaving the rest to deal with that issue. For now the only thing he could think of was dissecting the beast that had tried to take their lives, cutting it open and examining its anatomy would surely give him understand this unknown continent. A quick gaze at the position of the sun revealed that there were a few more hours of daylight, more than enough for Sol to inspect the beast before the, like hungry, crewmen could have their way with it.

After being ordered around by Aer the expedition members did not waste any time, quickly dragging the boar towards their encampment, most seemingly eager to feast upon its meat. Sol selected a party of four. Two of them were told to go back into the forest and given instructions to gather a variety of plants that he had seen during their short stroll. The remaining crew were told to hurry up back towards the camp and unpack a crate that held the majority of Sol’s instruments needed for his research. After giving the men their directions he noticed Aer was in the process of giving Jynx some advice. He quickly concluded that it had nothing to do with him and gave them a signal that he was going back to camp.

The stampeding boar had luckily inflicted a minimal amount of damage. It would most likely take no longer than an hour or two before the camp was completely set up, but in the meantime Sol had some experiments to do. His subordinates, as ordered, had set up Sol’s alchemy lab inside of a separate tent alongside of the dead boar. He took a look at his attire and decided that doing an autopsy dressed like this would be a bad idea. He removed his long blue coat and white dress shirt and replaced them with a thick black ankle length overcoat. After covering his hands with black leather gloves he pulled back his auburn hair, leaving only the usual strands to fall between his eyes.

“Here we go.â€

 It did not take more than an hour and a half for Sol to skin, clean and examine the boar. He actually felt more like a butcher than a scholar, but there was no point fussing over it. “Gareth!†At the sound of Sol’s voice, Gareth came running into the tent. After being greeted by the sight of Sol covered in blood, boar laid open upon a table and a variety of guts sprawled across the floor, Gareth had to do his best to keep the contents of his lunch in his stomach. “Go tell the men they can eat the boar; it’s safe, bring those clothes to my tent and wash these clothes. Oh, and also gather some people and tell them to clean this place up.†He pulled the bloodied gloves off of his hands and threw them along with the overcoat on the sand.

Wearing nothing but his black woollen pants and leather boots, he stepped out of the tent and saw that almost the entirety of the camp had been set up. It did not take long for Gareth to, reluctantly, abide by all of Sol’s orders. The men had begun roasting the boar on a spit, Gareth had brought Sol’s clean clothes to his tent and had already begun washing the bloodied coat and gloves and a crew of three were cleaning up the inside of the alchemy tent. For now he had something to discuss with Aer, Corine and Jynx, celebrating would have to wait.

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Corine was sure her heart skipped a beat when she fired. She felt as if time slowed to drag the nerve-wracking moment longer than she could stand. Holding her breath, she focused on the bolt as it sailed through the air. It was faster than anything she'd tried to move before, but she couldn't afford to miss. She reached out to it with her mind. Once she felt it, as sure as she felt her arm attached to her body, she stared unblinking into the boar's eye. A gentle nudge was all the bolt needed. Finally, mercifully, it struck its target. The boar squealed in agony for only a moment, and then all was still.

Corine dropped to one knee and steadied herself on her crossbow. The adrenaline was wearing off and fear crept over her.
There will be more, she thought.

Once the crowd started to form, she forced herself to her feet and did all she could to mask her emotions. She was barely aware of Aer and Jynx's conversation.

The crew dragged the boar back to camp, and Aer approached her. “Nice shot,†he said.

Corine was taken aback, partly from being nervous that someone would notice she was shaking, and partly out of surprise that Aer would compliment anybody.

“Oh, that? Don't thank me! Thank this little beaut!†She held the crossbow before her and wore a goofy smile. Her voice was louder than she intended. “I mean, I built it, so I s'pose you could thank me...but, really, it did all the work! Just gotta line the sights and hold it steady. I'm no marksman without it! Hah...†Her face turned red.
Yep, she thought. I sound exactly as stupid as I think I do. “Let's, uh, get back to camp.†She turned around and tried not to make eye contact with anyone on the way back.

*******

Corine spent the next few hours cutting down trees and sawing logs. She drafted some crew to assist her and made sure they avoided any trees bearing purple fruit, yellow moss, or anything else out of the ordinary. She soon found that most things on the island were not ordinary. Trees normal in appearance left stumps with swirl-patterns instead of rings. Some resisted the crews' axes with the hardness of stone. She even spotted a metallic-looking rock that melted in her hand when she picked it up.

She used the remaining daylight to direct the building of a wall. She insisted it be done before sunrise of the next day. Crew tied logs together, lifted them into position, and buried their bases deep in the sand, all while Corine gave orders with steadily decreasing patience and coherency. By nightfall, the first side – the one being built where the boar had come – was not even halfway done.

Eventually, Corine began dozing on her feet, only to awaken just in time to catch herself from falling. She groaned. Her stomach growled loud enough that some of the workers turned their heads.

“What?†she barked. “Never mind that!†She pushed on the wall. “It's still not steady. Anchor it here.â€

The crew moved to where she pointed. She rubbed her eyes.

“Wait. Sorry. I meant there.â€

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Emilina laid back in a tree, her left arm and leg dangling at the sides. Her bright blue eyes popped open at the sound of..trees being cut? She sat up on the branch and craned her neck to see, frowning when all she saw were branches. She stood up and turned, carefully jumping from tree to tree. As long as the branches were close, she had a good chance of not falling and hurting herself. She wondered if it was outsiders, who had come to steal all their goods. She remembered the last time that happened, but vaguely; She was only a child when that happened. She was an island native, and was in a village of sorts. 

 

She followed the sound of the noise until she landed in a tree where she could see better. It was just on the outskirts of what appeared to be a camp. She looked at all the hustle and bustle, tilting her head to the side. She then shifted her focus to the female who appeared to be hungry. She looked up from the tree she was in and plucked and bright purple fruit from the tree. It wasn't toxic at all, but the bright color of the fruit often caused confusion. She hesitantly made her way down the tree and slowly made her way over to the female and her associates. Her eyes landed on the woman clothes and strange things that covered her feet. 
 

Emilina had been taught to live off the island, and had learned to make clothes out of banana leaves and some cotton plants and dye. Her feet however, remained bare. It was her villages belief that you were never to break your connection with the island, as it was deemed disrespectful to their gods. 

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