If one were to stand at the east gate of Lioneye's Watch and look out down the coast, one would see many miles of beach and ocean that appeared to terminate at some far distant mass of hill and surf that only registered as a vague rocky silhouette on the horizon. The ocean stretched out on the right hand side as far as the eye could see, and on the left side were cliffs and steep slopes that receded gradually inland to give way to a dense mess of mangrove swamp. Between them was a corridor of bare sand and rocks no more than 50 metres wide, and curving slightly to the right to conform to the gentle concave shape of Wraeclast's southern coastline.
There were wavy lines of salt and seaweed stretching across the sand, and the hollow shells of dead crustaceans littered the beach, suggesting that it was currently low tide. In the cloud-darkened sky, small birds circled overhead, searching for whatever bits of food the waves may have brought ashore. On land, there was movement in the distance in several places, making it very clear that this beach was by no means deserted.
Xerephon always had a choice. He could always turn back. But if he was determined to seek out the tidal island, it was best to do it now, while the tide was still low. In a few hours, surely, the tide was going to roll in again and make the island inaccessible for those unwilling to swim the distance (which should include Xerephon for as long as he continues to wear metal armour).
This was going to be a long walk on the beach, and at first it was a little boring, since nothing in particular was moving. But then that in itself started to become a point of suspicion. There were no birds flying over this part of the beach, or any other animals in sight. It was too quiet.
Then, Xerephon caught movement in the corner of his eye. Behind some rocks on his left-hand side, something was scuttling about, as if trying to stay hidden from view. Then in front of him, something else moved quickly between two large boulders. It was small, like the size of a dog, maybe.
Then as the gladiator's eyes scanned over the various rocks in his field of vision they abruptly picked up a camouflaged shape nestled among them.
It was some kind of crustacean or giant insect, roughly the shape of a scorpion, but lacking any claws or discernable features such as eyes or a mouth. Its tail had no stinger, either. It was just some freakish type of monster. And it wasn't the only one on this beach.
As soon as the creature realized it had been discovered, it perked up immediately, rising up on its six legs into a threatening stance. It hissed angrily, and then flicked its tail up and down. The strangely-shaped front of the creature rose up from the ground, revealing a large vagina-like mouth along the ventral side of its body, and it spat a wad of wet sand directly at Xerephon. The earthen projectile had been packed together and hardened by some kind of resin, so that it flew through the air like a dart, striking hard against Xerephon's breastplate. The sand packet disintegrated immediately as soon as it struck the solid steel, but the force of the impact carried through into Xerephon's chest as if he had been hit by a baseball at 80 mph.
The creature immediately scuttled away behind a boulder after spitting its wad. But at the same time, more hissing was heard, coming from the rocks to the left of Xerephon, and another boulder to the right of him, and the old warrior's peripheral vision tracked the movement of two similar creatures scuttling into position to attack his flanks.
Xerephon grunted as the ball smacked into the breastplate. He unshipped the sword and tried to find some boulders where he could get some cover - ideally he wanted to make sure they couldn't fire at him from a distance.
As he looked around he kept moving quickly as he didn't want to get hit again.
The other two critters spat their sand darts at Xerephon as well, but thanks to his abrupt movement they caused no damage to him. The dart flying from his right side missed completely as he dashed toward some rocks in that direction, while the dart coming from the left side only grazed his left buttcheek, leaving a smear of sand across his skin and causing no more harm than a rough slap.
Xerephon found a spot behind a large boulder where he could stop and assess the situation without being fired upon. There were three of those little alien-looking bugs scuttling around among the rocks on the other side of his cover. One was very close, literally directly on the far side of the boulder he was hiding behind. The other two were a bit further away, perhaps five or ten paces distant, and lurking among the rocks, which was going to make closing the distance a bit awkward.
He could hear what sounded like digging from their positions. In fact what they were doing was scooping up mouthfuls of sand and packing them together with resin to make new projectiles. Even though the one that had struck Xerephon's armour had been blunted by the hard steel, these projectiles were dart-shaped, with well-defined resin-hardened points that could very easily draw blood if he allowed himself to be struck directly on exposed skin. The advantage he had was that it was taking these creatures a few seconds to produce new projectiles from fresh mouthfuls of sand, and so if he timed his movements intelligently, he might avoid being struck altogether. On the other hand, these creatures seemed to have an intelligence of their own, and were going to be actively trying to surround him and catch him off guard, all while making themselves as difficult to touch as possible.
Xerephon listened out to work out where the critters were. One was clearly close, the sounds of the others made it clear that they were further away. He needed to move quickly to reduce the threat.
While he could still hear them making noises, he sprinted out from behind the rocks and in the direction of the closest creature. With the sword out, it was time to find out what these crystals did. His plan was to strike the creature as fast as possible, and then to dodge quickly away so that he could further assess the situation. If he could get back into cover he would, if not he would have to rely on dodging the projectiles. The fact that they had not thrown more of the darts against the place he was hiding showed some intelligence - hopefully not too much. Until he left cover, he would not realise that there was a delay between them firing the darts
Concentrating on the power of the virtue gems that had adhered themselves to his sword, Xerephon got a brief mental image of fire and brimstone, and then as he came around the corner and the nearest spitter creature came into view, the sword glowed orange-red, and a stream of little balls of magma spewed forth out of thin air. It appeared as if the sword itself was belching out this incandescent material the way one vomits up a bad meal. A cluster of these tiny balls of molten rock sprayed out over a short distance and fell upon the spitter, sizzling its carapace and causing its limbs to flinch uncontrollably in agony. In less than a second, the creature was dead, rolling over onto its back and curling its legs up over its belly like a spider, while trails of smoke poured out of its mangled roasted husk.
Molten Strike, they called it. The actual physical substance that was conjured up by the virtue gem had already disappeared, having returned back to whatever supernatural or extraplanar source from whence it had arrived, but the scalding heat remained, as evidenced by what it had done to the little monster's exoskeleton. For a split second, Xerephon felt a tinge of dizziness as the drain on his body's natural mana became evident, but it faded very quickly, and he was able to duck back behind the rocks before anything bad happened to him. Experienced spellcasters apparently got used to this woozy feeling that came when they consumed mana to activate skill gems, but for one who was not accustomed to the practice, it could be an alarming sensation when experienced for the first time.
Adopt, adapt, and improve, as they say.
In the brief time he was out there, his eyes had not been able to pick up where the other two spitters were. They had not fired on him immediately, so it was likely that they had either gone behind cover, or they were camouflaged somewhere and waiting for a better opportunity, or a cleaner shot. They were no longer making noise, so it was hard to know for sure where they were or what they were doing.
Xerephon shook his head to clear the dizziness. He needed to try and draw the others out - though it was useful to know what the sword could do. Picking up the driftwood club, he draped strands of seaweed over it to look like hair and raised it above the level of the boulders. he then moved it to and fro, trying to see if he could encourage them to reveal their positions.
Should they do so, his plan is to charge across and hew them into pieces with the sword
At first, nothing happened, but as Xerephon waited for a few seconds, he heard some chittering from the other side of the rock, about 10 paces away. One of the creatures must have advanced closer to him, and the noise of the ocean had drowned out the sound of its footsteps. There was a rough horking noise, and a sand dart came flying through the air and struck the club Xerephon was holding up. It was a direct hit, and the force of it reverberated down the wood and into Xerephon's hand, as if he had just cracked a foul ball into the bleachers.
At the same time, the second creature came into view, coming around the edge of a rock that was further away and directly ahead of where Xerephon was hiding. While Xerephon had been presenting his decoy, the spitters had been using that time to flank him.
Xerephon swore and threw himself at the spitter intending to stroke it with the sword. As he charged it, he waited for it to start to throw a sand dart at him - when it did, he would hurl the club at it and then change his grip on the sword to give himself a full two-handed grip for extra damage.
The dart came low and caught Xerephon mid-stride, catching his left hip just beneath his armour and knocking him off balance a little. It stung quite a bit, and felt like it was either bleeding, or would bruise heavily as a result. But the old gladiator was experienced enough as a warrior to not be thrown off by such a wound. The spitter tried to turn and flee as soon as it released its sand dart, but Xerephon's thrown club knocked it sideways before it could get going, and threw the creature into a moment of confusion as some of its legs came free of the sand and wiggled about trying to regain their grip.
That split second was enough time for Xerephon to close the remaining distance and hack into the creature with his sword. The blade was not terribly sharp, considering its current state of disrepair, but it was quite heavy, and with two hands behind the swing, Xerephon struck with enough force to crack the spitter's exoskeleton and make globs of yellowish-white fluid squirt out from the crack. The spitter, disoriented from the blow, fell onto its side, and another swing of the sword scrambled its insides and killed it. The creature rolled onto its back and continued to twitch its legs and tail for several minutes thereafter as more of its life-plasma leaked out onto the sand.
The one remaining creature had scuttled away behind a boulder again while Xerephon was fighting, and it was no longer in view, but he could hear it digging into the sand again somewhere nearby.
Xerephon put a hand on the place where the sand dart had hit him to make sure that he wasn't bleeding and then turned his attention to the final spitter. He picked up the club and quietly approached the boulder. As he got close to it, he took the club and lobbed it over to the right hand side of the boulder. As soon as it hit the ground, he charged around the other side of the boulder, his sword at the ready to kill the critter
The creature stopped munching on sand as soon as Xerephon's club came arcing over the boulder. It landed nowhere near the spitter, but the critter backed away from where it landed all the same, raising its tail in expectation of an attack. Coming from the other direction, Xerephon caught the spitter off guard and smashed it with his sword before the spitter could turn and spit.
Now that he was no longer under threat of attack, Xerephon could take stock of the situation. There was a bit of blood coming from his hip where he had been struck, but it was more of a scrape than a cut, and it would surely heal quickly as long as he didn't aggravate it or allow it to get infected.
There was also a small treasure that caught Xerephon's eye by the way it glinted in the sun. Buried in the sand next to one of the rocks was a piece of glass that turned out to be a potion flask. It was not just any glass container, but in fact there was a widget etched into the bottom of the flask in the shape of a magical rune, and the neck of the flask had a decorative red stain all the way around it. This was an enchanted flask, a common tool across Oriath and Wraeclast. Water that entered the flask was instantly purified of microbial activity, making it safe to drink. Furthermore, the magical enchantment on this particular flask added a healing property to the water within, which would cause Xerephon's wounds to close much faster than normal, the more he drank from it. The only problem was that this type of flask did not do desalination, and so in order to use it, Xerephon was going to have to find a source of freshwater, such as the well in Lioneye's Watch.
Xerephon checked his hip to make sure that he wouldn’t make the injury worse. He then grabbed the potion bottle and carried on. He then paused and jogged back to pick the club up before heading off down the strand.
The spitters has unnerved him a bit and he kept a careful eye out for other similar critters
This patch of rocks and boulders extended for another hundred metres or so, and mercifully there were no more creatures lurking here to attack Xerephon. With all the things he was carrying now, it might get awkward to have to fight, considering he had no pockets or even a belt to store anything in. If he looked around enough, he'd find some rags and bits of driftwood bark that could possibly be tied together to make a crude sack, though.
Beyond the rocky area, the cliffs on the left hand side receded inland, and the saltwater swamp grew larger. There was a shallow stream running out of the swamp at this western-most edge of it, feeding excess water back into the sea. It smelled horrible, and looked quite brackish. Beyond the foul stream was a stretch of sandy beach that had been built up into dunes by the wind. It was difficult to see what was lurking among those dunes, but there was a much more immediate threat that had to be dealt with first. On the far side of the stream, before the dunes, Xerephon could see...
It was currently about forty metres away, and was scuttling up and down the stream looking for food to snatch up. It did not seem to notice Xerephon, but that could easily change if he were to approach more closely and initiate... a crab battle (oliolio!).
Xerephon looked at the size of the crab and decided ther was no wayhe wanted to face it, there was bravery and there was just stupidity. A massive armoured creature could not be taken on by one poorly armed and armoured person.
Xerephon started to work his way back along the coast to see if he could work his way inland to get around the monstrous crab
(Just to be clear on the size, this thing is about four feet wide and two-three feet high, I think. Might have to check with Blaze to confirm)
Since the crab was ignoring Xerephon for now, it was fairly easy to find an inland path that would go around it. The trouble was that where the beach ended, it was all swamp, which meant he would be stepping into ankle-deep water, or sometimes knee-deep water, that was so brackish he couldn't see what was beneath the surface. To make matters more complicated, there were mangrove trees growing everywhere, their thin twisting branches making a tangled mess of everything. Stepping over and around all of that growth was doable, but progress would be slow.
(Ah - not as big as the clip made out. That changes things)
Xerephon decided that the crab was the lesser of the two problems to deal with. He headed back down to the beach and took stock of the situation. With the stones set in theswodd, he thought he would be able to deal with the crab.
He tried to get to a position where he could observe the crab and waited for a moment where it would be looking away from him. He then planned to charge it and try to hack it with the activated sword. If he killed it in one blow, great - but he didn’t know how strong it’s armour would be. So if he didnt kill it with his first cut, Xerephon decided he would then concentrate on weaker area - it’s’ eyestalks
As Xerephon approached closer, the crab stopped its foraging and perked up to look at him. It did not move right away, but it was clearly watching him just as he was watching it. There was a tense moment, and then the crab began to scuttle sideways a bit to grab a baby sea cucumber it had spotted squirming in the sand.
This was probably Xerephon's best chance, but the crab wasn't stupid. As soon as he started charging forward, the crab looked up at him and dropped its food. It raised its claws defensively and lowered its body. Fortunately for Xerephon, however, his sword's gem power was a ranged attack, and so while he was still out of reach of the crab's claws, he was able to pelt it with globules of lava. The crab reacted by trying to sprint to the side to evade this attack, but it was too slow and some of the lava balls landed on its legs on its left side, burning through the carapace and disabling the crab's movement.
After sustaining this injury, the crab's body was tilted, the left side of its body hanging lower as it was no longer supported by its legs, while the right side of its body was still raised up in the air by its healthy legs. Virtually immobilized in this way, it was an easy target for Xerephon to start hacking away at. The carapace was pretty tough and quite resistant to the blunt force of his dull sword, but after a few strong hits he was able to crack it open and force the steel inside the crab's body to kill it. If his sword was properly sharpened, he probably could have cut through the shell sooner.
...he also could have flipped it over and attacked its weak point for MASSIVE DAMAGE.
In any case, after being partly cooked on its left side the crab's legs were starting to smell very tasty. If he failed to find any other supplies out here, at least these giant crab legs might feed the denizens of Lioneye's Watch for another night.
Another interesting thing to note was that there was now a small amount of red liquid in Xerephon's magic flask. It was only a few drops, but it seemed that killing this crab had somehow caused the beginnings of a health potion to condense inside the flask. It was one of the strange properties of Wraeclast that such flasks refill themselves slowly in the presence of death, as if they were capturing some of the departing life force and condensing it into magic-infused water. But it was going to take several more kills before there would be enough liquid in this flask to serve as a proper potion.