Elite Guard of the Elders
On a sunny and humid day, a small party of Reefkin walked the shorepath from Imorag’s Beach to North Point. They were mostly frogfolk, but at their center was a turtlekin. He had a fine indigo shell and the air of a scholar -- which, of course, he was. His name was Tokon and he specialized in the military history of the Reefkin.
“So,” Tokon was saying, his voice low and excited. “Guardian Sorug actually was swallowed by the epikraken? And then killed it from the inside? He cut his way out through it’s stomach?”
Tokon was especially interested in the Guardians. The Guardians of the Reef were an order of elite warriors. Their duty was to guard the Ancient and the Elders. To battle monsters. To be an example of fighting prowess to all the Reefkin. Their lives were always exciting.
Captain Aresh smiled weakly at Tokon, his throat bobbing. He was a frogfolk of medium build, and carried an ornate halberd as his weapon. He was also the leader of the Memoried and Memory-less that guarded Tokon on his short journey.
“Um, not quite, scholar,” said Aresh, respectfully. “He didn’t get out -- Guardian Sorug died inside the epikraken. But the beast had been wounded enough from the inside that it died, um, soon after.”
“Oh,” said Tokon, somewhat disappointed. It would have made a better entry into the histories if Guardian Sorug had cut himself out of the epikraken and survived just long enough to stand heroically attop the slain monster. But, well, a poet was allowed some leeway with the truth. And Tokon was both a scholar and a poet. It was his duty to accurately maintain the histories of the Reefkin -- but it was his joy to embellish them in poetry for his people’s entertainment. For a moment the turtlekin was lost in thought, searching for a line or two that would begin a short work about Sorug and the epikraken.
“I wish I’d been there…” he muttered. He’d memorized hundreds of poems describing battles, but he’d never seen one in person.
Aresh gave Tokon a distressed look that seemed to say that the turtlekin was mad.
Then Aresh’s head snapped around, looking at the dark forest that crept up towards the shorepath as they walked.
“Let’s hurry…” said Aresh, glancing at the sun. It was still well up in the sky. There were, however, plenty of monsters lurking in the forest during the daytime.
Tokon strained a bit, stretching out of his shell. “Do you think it’s something dangerous?” he asked, excited. Tokon usually spent his days in the scholar’s circle -- learning the epic poems that chronicled the histories of the Reefkin. In fact, this was as far as he’d ever gone from Imorag’s Beach and he was eager to see something more exotic than wrinkled old turtlekin.
“I hope not,” gulped Aresh. “If you don’t mind moving more-- there! Ready spears!”
The Memoried warriors obeyed at once, turning their spears in unison towards the trees. The Memory-less croaked in alarm and shuffled forward eventually in response to some shouts from their commanders. The Memory-less raised sticks and crude weapons and jabbered so loudly that it muffled the crash of underbrush as a large spotted cat -- twice the height of Tokon -- bounded from the treecover, leaping across the shore in one bound.
The massive feline’s jaws snapped down on one of the frogfolk and with a quick shake of its head, the frog’s neck was broken. The beast tossed the frogfolk body aside and chose another from Tokon’s entourage.
Terrified, Tokon retreated into his shell and saw no more. Yet, he could hear everything. The sounds of carnage surrounded him: the gabbling screams and the more coherent cries of the Memoried, the snap of that powerful jaw and a hideous mewling that came from the forest. That monster must have offspring! Then Tokon was spinning in his shell -- sent almost into the air by the swipe of a large, deadly paw. He cried out in fear, trying to shrink even further and then drew in a breath of seawater as he landed in the surf and a wave flooded his shell. He spluttered, choking, as the sea water retreated once more.
Tokon dared not move or come out of his shell. The screams and sounds of battle had ceased. Instead Tokon heard groans and the sound of bodies being dragged across the sand to feed those unseen infant monsters. The uncaring ocean washed up and down the sands, splashing him with every other wave -- washing away his tears with more saltwater.
When half an hour had passed with no sound of the monster, Tokon finally peered out of his shell.
Breathing heavily, he saw the destruction left by the cat’s attack for the first time.
The shore was littered with bodies and severed limbs. Blood soaked into the sand. The Memory-less, yes, naturally -- but the Memoried too. Half a dozen Elders of the Reef dead so quickly. Of Captain Aresh there was no sign. He must have been one of the ones fed to that beast’s young. Tokon let out a groan. Now, it was nearly night and he was alone.
What a fool he’d been! Tokon sat down heavily on the sand, looking at the destruction. All his babble about fighting and great battles. He’d wanted to see a fight! He’d wanted to-- it was too mortifying to contemplate. Tokon put his head down and wept.
What was he going to do? As he shifted, something sharp pricked his tail. Carefully, Tokon took up the dagger -- a weapon dropped by his guard. His fallen guard. They’d died for his journey. The turtlekin’s mouth hardened into a thin line. No one was going to die for him again. Not ever, ever again.
Tokon stood before an assembly of Elders of the Reef, face to face with Ancient Bullmon himself. It was a sunny day, and they stood on the white gold sands of Imarug’s Beach. Heaps of raw fish and baskets of fruit awaited the feasting.
Ancient Bullmon was speaking in a drone: “And then, the turtlekin drew all the attention of the feral monkeys with his mad sounds and antics. The pack charged him, shrieking fiercely, but the turtlekin hid in his shell. The monkeys battered mindlessly at him to no avail -- and his companions were then able to make short work of the beasts…”
Tokon smiled. He remembered the fight with the monkeys. Even safe in his shell, he’d been worried. Now though…
For several years, Tokon had been striving to earn a place among the Guardians, among the elite fighters of the Reefkin. Guardians were meant to be agile warriors. They should be able to climb up the side of a ship in seconds. They should be able to leap up onto a monster and cut it five times before the beast could reach them. They were… not supposed to be turtlekin.
But Tokon had insisted that nothing in any of the histories said anything about Guardians not being turtlekin. No matter how many times the Elders told him that the omission was because it was simply obvious, he replied that there was nothing obvious about it.
And today he’d proved it. Tokon had decided on this path that night, weeping on the beach. He had decided he would be a fighter, and now he was. Ancient Bullmon continued to enumerate his achievements: he commanded part of the attack on the intruding forest elves and their enormous ship, his fought a giant eel and won, he’d journeyed out beyond the Reef to rescue a lost party of frogfolk. All that was told for many Memoried to hear it.
Bullmon finished his speech, and Tokon heard the ancient mutter: “Never thought I’d see a turtlekin Guardian.” Tokon ignored the rudeness of the remark. It was too fine a day to notice rudeness. Ancient Bullmon held out a shark-toothed halberd for the turtlekin. Tokon bowed deeply while the attendant Reefkin cheered him -- and he took the weapon.
He’d learned sword and sling and poisoned dart, but settled on the halberd as his chosen weapon. He said it was because the length was an advantage, that with his size he could do more damage with a larger weapon. Secretly, however, the choice was his homage to the fallen Captain Aresh.
Now Tokon turned, raising his arms and his weapon, acknowledging his friends and his brother and sister guardians.
It was the duty of the guardians to defend the Ancients. To battle monsters. To be an example of fighting prowess to all the Reefkin.
Now that he was a fighter and his oath was fulfilled, Tokon intended to be worthy of a few poems himself.