It was dawn and a spectacular one at that. Just off the Snake’s Mouth where the mighty Osira relieved itself into the Outer Seas, a Skalian war galley was coasting back and forth, in and out. Out, but rarely further than the protective shroud of the Stone. Beyond that normally imperceptible shroud, a thick drizzle of red dust was descending and the rising sun was a blood orange, thrusting up over the horizon. The crew stared, fascinated by this contrast, this revelation. If any had harbored doubts as to the power that lay within Djebal Doron, they were now utterly dispelled.
As dawn gave way to morning and morning passed into midday, still the galley was there, searching; trawling for a floating timber at worst, a survivor at best. Just some indication as to the fate of the large fleet of fish-boats that had departed Skal some twenty days ago. This had been its destination, a prolific fishing ground where the warm nutritious waters of the Osira mixed with the all-encompassing ocean.
The sun’s rays were intense even through the dust-laden atmosphere overhead, and the crew were stripped to their waists. Their minds were beginning to wander in this sultry environment, for the rhythm of the galley’s drum was slow and it only required a lethargic pull on the oars to send the sleek vessel gliding far through the calm water. It was prowling at the very fringe of the distinctive boundary that had developed, a mere oar’s length from the neighboring dust film, but for its captain the novelty of this sight was fast fading and his attention was focused landward, captured by the infinite green line of palms that fluttered mesmerically behind the heat haze lingering above the scorched beach. His keen eyes though went beyond the palms, following the beach around to where it expired against the rocky promontory that flanked the eastern edge of the bay in which they now found themselves. The feature was clearly marked on the charts as a hazard, for it continued well out into the ocean. Also marked on the charts was the extent of the Stone’s aura but he knew without even looking that it fell well beyond the promontory, much further out into the ocean. Why then were the rocks at the end of the promontory and the weeds strewn across them submerged in a layer of red dust?
Beneath the waves the outline of the hull was clearly visible. A dynamic black oval on pale purple. The path of the oval was being followed intently; pursued by an ancient sentience unused to light such as this for rarely had it ventured to the surface. Recollections came of another era, threadbare now, such was the timescale involved. They had confronted those above, had insinuated themselves into their pulpy frames and feeble minds. In response to these spirit-like abilities, the surface ones with their mellifluous tones had labeled them “Eidola”. It was not a word suited to their own harsh vocabulary.
Recollections faded as cold intelligence chose the moment.
Now! It had to be now!
Eagerly, the Eidolon moved upward.
The captain was awakened from his reverie by a shrill call from the bow look-out. The drumming stopped, oars dragged listlessly in the water and the forward motion of the boat was gradually slowed.
A raft of driftwood had just floated through the barrier, its surface caked in red grime, and on it a body was stretched out. Unbeknown to the crew of the galley the body was devoid of life, but as boat hooks grappled to haul it in, an unseen entity entered; an opaque shimmer on the surface of the water was all that betrayed its presence. The Eidolon’s other body, scarred and misshapen, but altogether more suited to the rigors of the ocean, pressed against the underside of the raft, hidden from sight. Catharsis for the consciousness imprisoned therein would be brief.
Unseeing eyes lolled upwards, the torso twitched convulsively. The Eidolon manipulated the muscles and vocal chords of this new body with practiced ease. The former vitality within had been allowed to linger until the appearance of the galley, whereupon it had been extinguished; there could be no distractions, however slight.
A beckoning arm lured down the attentive ear of the captain. Parched burnt lips were drawn back and a few dying words were gasped. ‘Khirs, they…slew us all!’
The body was at rest. The drum beat was urgent. The Eidolon reclaimed its more familiar guise and slunk back to the depths.