Welcome to Part 2 of Voyage of the Lotus, a series from the mind of Anders Lundell (aka Isharton), a talented freelance artist with a passion for Magic: The Gathering.
In the story of Voyage of the Lotus, the merfolk Latir has to protect the heart of her home from an alien threat. During this story, we will see Latir travel through worlds via a yet to be revealed means to find people that could help her in her quest.
”Sister? Where are you going?”
”No! Don’t go out there!”
”It will kill you!”
A cold bolt hit Latir’s face, and she snapped her eyes open.
For a second she wondered if she had passed onto the other side, but she confirmed shortly after that it wasn’t the case as another droplet from the branch above struck her face.
She smiled and laughed.
”Looks like you wont let me to give up just yet” she said as she stood up.
She looked around her and noticed her fall had been damped by various trees and bushes. Her back still hurt, but she was grateful nothing was broken. Then she realized she could still be in danger. She quickly braced herself and turned around, and that is when she noticed what had become of the monstrosity that had fallen down with her. It’s torso had been impaled by a giant branch-less tree, and now green oozing liquid poured from the creature as it lay silent.
Latir returned herself into a more relaxed posture once again, only to realize that she no longer was holding the lotus.
”No! Please don’t be—” She was quickly interrupted as she noticed the familiar light shine through the leaves from the same bush she had landed in. She rushed over and gently moved the branches away to reveal the lotus laying in a crucible of leaves.
She picked it up and gently put it into her pouch, the one she usually uses to collect rare artifacts she finds scavenging the bottom of the lake, but it will have to do as a temporary storage for the lotus until she makes her way home again. She stands up and direct her gaze upward to the side of the cliff.
”I need to find a way home before the other one decide to come down here as well.” she thought to herself.
First she needed to find out which way is south. She began trotting as she know she cant linger too long next to an easy meal for other predators around. The carcass of the monster wont be there tomorrow as the beasts here are quick on claiming their prey.
After walking a long time, which to her felt like a breeze after all that running, she came to a small river.
”Finally!” Latir uttered and quickly placed herself in the water.
She felt a gentle cold go up her legs as she closed her eyes, enjoying the feeling to its fullest.
This cold would seem unbearable for most humans until their body had taken time to accustom itself to it, even most ocean-dwelling merfolk would retreat onto land at first. But Latir was born as a freshwater-merfolk, and thus her body was already accustomed to the cold.
After standing in the water, with her eyes still closed, listening to the sound of the river and the chirping of the birds, she leaned forward and scooped some water with her palms and raised it to her lips. It was a haven for her, and it almost made her forget her mission.
Then, she heard the snapping of a branch and her senses returned to her. She quickly turned around and to her dread she confirmed that she had been ambushed by someone. In front of her she cloaked figure who had drawn a bow, aiming for Latir who is still standing in the middle of the river.
”Who are you?” Latir asked as she was taking stance. She knew that if it would come to it, she would have the opportunity to ask the river for help much like she did back at the ravine.
”Someone wondering what a merena is doing so far from home. Surely you didn’t swim up the river.” the cloaked figure replied with an obvious feminine voice.
Latir reacted to this.
”Merena”. That’s what the elves of the woods call the merfolk. She eased up her stance. Somehow knowing at least what race and supposed gender this person is made her subconsciously ease up.
”No, I’m…. I was out looking for herbs. My… Sister is sick.” She replied.
”Sorry to hear that.”
”Yes, so if you would please—”
”Sorry to hear you are either a liar or a fool.” The cloaked figure retracted the arrow further.
”Herbs of this forest doesn’t work on the ailments of the Merena. Either you didn’t know, and therefor you are but a fool who took no heed from the learned of your village on what herbs to collect for your sister”
Latir once more tensed up, readying herself to summon her elemental.
The elf continued; ”Or, you are a liar who are covering up your true intentions.”
”Now!” Latir shouted.
She was expecting a giant burst of water to splash away her ambusher, but nothing happened.
”Please! Now! I need help!” she continued to ask the river for help, but she was greeted with silence.
Then she heard the cloaked figure giggle, until she broke out in a laughter.
”That river wont do you any good!” she said as she lowered her arrow and removed the cloak that was covering her head, shadowing her face.
The elf had long ears, and her hair was very short and had a green tint to it. Her face was very slender and her nose was rather flat compared to most. She was smiling, but not maliciously.
”It and I have been friends for a long time already.” she said.
Latir stood in the river. Still confused.
The elf continued; ”You are one too, right? A whisper mage I mean.”
Latir reacted. ” Y-yes! I am… How did you—”
”A mage would cast a spell directing the water, a summoner would use the water to form a creature that would attack.
But a whisper mage never commands, they ask for help.”
Latir was nervous as she stepped through the door to the elf’s hut. It lay in a very lit part of the forest with various flowers growing around it. Birds were singing, and only some feet away she saw a deer munching on some grass before it raised its head to look at them.
”It warms my heart seeing that the art of Whispering has been passed onto you merena’s too! It started out as an elvish magic.”
The elf whom Latir had gotten to know as Sylvia was unloading herself the arrows and bow she had carried with her, placing them gently up against the wall.
”It has actually been a part of merfolk culture for a long time. It’s just that it is very rare.”
Sylvia stretched her arms and replied. ”I suppose.”
Sylvia continued as she was removing her boots and gloves, letting out a sigh of relief; ”Seeing how a whisper-mage is usually awakened when they’ve been in contact with the forest for a long period of time.”
Latir glanced up from her close inspection of the elven weavings that was adorning one of the walls.
”I spent a lot of time outside the water when I was young. Playing in the forest was my favorite hobby.” Latir smiled at the memory.
”All them cracks and crevices in the vegetation made great hiding spots you see.”
Sylvia sat down by a table further in.
”You must’ve had lots of fun, seeing how you managed to awaken your Whispering while still being a fish out of water.”
Latir quickly turned.
”We don’t like to be called that.” she said with a stern voice.
”Sorry, I didn’t mean to offend.”
”No it’s fine. I’m… I am just a bit on the edge.”
”How come?” Sylvia’s ears peaked a little.
”It’s …. It’s just that— ” Latir thought for a second, but then figured that she couldn’t hide it any longer anyway. She was even surprised that the elf felt nothing in it’s presence. Maybe that’s what had her on the edge at first. She moved her hands down into the pouch and revealed the lotus for Sylvia.
Sylvia reacted to this like Latir imagined she would have. Her eyes widened as Latir placed the flower on the table.
”This is why Im on the edge.” Latir said.
Sylvia’s eyes looked up at Latir. ”But isn’t this… the sacred flower? How did you—”
”You have probably noticed the creatures that suddenly swarmed down from the mountains. For some reason, they keep on killing. Almost like they have no other motive than to feed on other beings. Many villages back home have been completely slaughtered and thus, for the first time in forever, my village and a nearby human town decided to work together and fight these monsters.
However, for every monster we took down, we lost thirty of our own. That’s when the village elder and the mayor of the human town came to a conclusion, If we were to stand a chance against the monsters, then we need more power to even the battlefield. That’s when the village elder suggested that we could use the power of the Lotus, or at least ask it for help on what to do.”
Sylvia looked at Latir with a serious face. ”That’s when you were assigned this, right?”
”Yes.” Latir replied. ”I am one of the few Whisper-mages who have managed to talk to beings of the forest while the others from my village seem to only be able to communicate with the waters.”
Latir leaned back and lift her leg in a comedic way; ”Im also the only one with proper legs for the voyage, seeing as the rest are just a bunch of old people!”
Sylvia and Latir laughed together.
Then Latir lowered her head once again.
”I’m… I’m not sure what to do next. I saved the lotus but it wont tell me where i should be heading now.”
Sylvia leaned back at her chair with her arms crossed. ”Well maybe you should visit the Agharta Ruins then.”
Latir looked up, ” The what ruins?”
”Agharta ruins. It’s a special place for us Whisper mages and a lot of those who found no guidance at the Lotus tend to continue their pilgrimage there.”
”How come I haven’t heard of this place ?”
”Well it’s… ” Sylvia looked a bit embarrassed. ” It’s just that it’s not really officially recognized as a sacred place, but you are able to hear the ruins talking.”
Latir lift her eyebrow. ”Like… non stop?”
”Yes. Usually for us Whisper mages we have to be the ones initiating the conversation, but with these… well they wont shut up. That’s why it’s a part of the pilgrim’s voyage.”
”Have you been there?” Latir asked, now intrigued.
”Twice, the first time it scared the ghost out of me and the second time i tried to decipher what they meant. All i could make out was that they were whispering about Other stars.”
”Beats me… The place gave me the shivers, so I vowed never to return and just forget about it. But seeing how the Lotus has chosen you as its guardian, and that the ruins clearly have something to do with Whispering, maybe if you bring the Lotus there, they will tell you?”
Latir glanced at the Lotus which is still giving off a gentle glow, much like a candle in a dark room. She scanned it for any sign of reaction to the mentions of the ruins, but it lay dormant.
”How far are these ruins?” she asked.
”Not too far, maybe a three hour walk south from here. Four for you I suppose.” Sylvia replied.
Latir thought to herself and then spoke. ”Do you have a map?”
Sylvia turned around and grabbed a sheet of paper that was lying on a nearby drawer and put it onto the table.
Latir leaned forward to inspect it.
”Where’s the ruins located?” she asked and Sylvia pointed at the location on the map.
Latir shone up ”Like i thought! If I do take a path towards the ruins, there will only be a couple of hours until i reach my village from there!” She made a straight line from where the ruins are located towards a large lake on the map.
Sylvia chuckled. ”So paying a visit wouldn’t be such a waste even if it doesn’t bear any fruit now.”
”Indeed! ” Latir was now smiling. Maybe this was a sign. If she do figure out what to do next at the ruins, she can just make haste to the village to inform the elder on her discovery. It’s too perfect to be a coincidence.
”Either way,” Sylvia added, ”You will have to wait until morning. Seeing as the sun is setting and these part of the woods aren’t really safe when night comes. I got an extra bed you can use.”
Latir turned around and glanced out of one of the windows. Indeed, the sun is beginning to set and she too knew that there’s nothing more dangerous than for someone inexperienced to venture in the dark. Her excitement had to be quelled until dawn comes, but she was certain she was on the right track now. How could she not be? she thought to herself.
”You’re right.” She turned towards Sylvia once more. ” Sorry to be a bother.”
Sylvia smiled. ”Not at all! If you turn out to be the savior of our forest, then surely it’s a privilege to help you out.”
The next morning, Latir felt more refreshed than she had in a long time.
Sylvia was observing her from the doorway as Latir made sure she was bringing everything she needed with her.
”Sure you know the way?”
”Yes, we merfolk are known to have good inner compasses.” Latir replied
”Just make sure you don’t strive from the path, and if you run into those monsters you better get ready to make a run for it.”
”Trust me, I know what they are capable of.” Latir turned around one final time to say good bye to her new ally.
”Thank you so much for helping me, I wont forget it.” she said as she bowed for the elf.
Sylvia chuckled. ”No problem, Now go and save us all.”
And thus Latir was off.
After an hour of walking through the thick forest, she couldn’t help but feel a slight bit of joy bubble inside of her.
Latir was known back in the village to be very impulsive and optimistic. While the common behavior for a lake-merfolk was to avoid any kind of danger while hiding in their lakes, Latir’s behavior was closer to that of a merfolk of the ocean. They were known to be impulsive and adventurous, always finding new treasures at the bottom of the ocean much like how Latir compensates by finding stuff at the bottom of her lakes.
Frankly, she had never seen the ocean. She just had heard tales of it. The vastness and the smell of it was just something she had imagined in her mind. But, if her mission is a success she made a vow to finally venture to see the ocean for the first time and swim amongst the other merfolk there. Latir mused at this, and thus she subconsciously picked up a faster pace as she played around with her imagination of what swimming in the ocean would be like.
Then she came to a stop, and she thought.
”Wish you could be there too sis… ”
Her mood dropped for a few minutes as she stood there, but eventually she continued her path.
After another hour, she noticed that the air in the forest had gotten much thicker. Like someone had put a cloth over her. She didn’t notice until now how the trees around her were much taller than from before. She realized that because of her keeping up such a hasty pace, she had gotten there much earlier than anticipated. Latir hurried further down the forest as she took the lotus from her pouch and carried it as she ran.
”Soon! ” she thought to herself as she leapt over logs and bushes.
She then noticed it, how the rocks around her had gotten more square the further down she ran.
Her pace slowed down until she was once again walking, and eventually she came to a halt.
This was the ruins of Agharta.