Continuing on from last week, today we have part two of our preview of the introduction narrative for the Saurids Sourcebook. If you missed part one, you’ll want to check it out here first, as we left off on a cliffhanger. Again, I would really value feedback on this, so please leave your comments below and on Discord.
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With that out of the way, let’s continue on with the story.
After several hours of walking, and many feints and turns and changes of direction, As’os was quite certain they had managed to get the brunt of the Burning Maws’ forces pulled together to the north of them. He had no doubt that the Maws were prepared for the likelihood that they would run, though they probably hadn’t counted on their quarry going this far out of their way. He hoped this would get them frustrated and more likely to be blinded by their aggression. Before an outing such as this, the Plains tribes often had a night of celebration to get their warriors worked up into a frenzy and ready for the battle ahead. If their spears were already twitching waiting for the fight to come to them, they had to be positively bloodthirsty at having to go chase it down.
Finally, the procession found a location that would function for his plan, a narrow strip of beach close to scrub lands that gave way to plains and then shortly to forest as one moved inland. The time spent walking also meant the tides had gotten low, exposing sand bars close to the shore. As the Maws followed, they would find their group positioned on a sand bar about thirty yards off the coast. The tides were in just the right position that the walking path to the sand bar was alternately covered and uncovered as the waves rolled in and out, exactly as they needed to be.
“This all depends on you,” As’os spoke quietly to Lassim as he kept watch for their pursuers. He was just starting to make out the patterns of charcoal black war paint the Maws decorated their snouts with to give them their name. “Are you sure you’ll be able to hold long enough?”
“Just try not to move around too much.” Lassim replied, their eyes closed in concentration as they focused on maintaining their spell. Their junior shamans gathered around, hands on their shoulder as they chanted a prayer in unison to lend their strength and encouragement, and to help bear the strain of the sustained effort.
If there was any doubt as to whether the they’d be able to take the Burning Maws forces in a direct fight, those questions were immediately dashed as their forces came into view. The Maws were easily twice their number, all seasoned warriors and hunters, all charging ahead with weapons drawn. As they approached the water line, however, one decorated member at the front of the charge held up a hand and made a fist, and their battle line slowed to a stop.
As’os gripped his spear tighter in anticipation. If they followed the usual pattern for this sort of raid, the Maws would be driven to bring the fight up close and personal. If their leader sensed something was off, however, he might decide to bombard them at range with atlatls first, and if that happened his plan would be ruined. Silently, he prayed this was just the Maws’ leader trying to get in some boasting before the fight.
“Well now, what do we have here?” he called out mockingly. “A group of tree huggers and abominations so far away from home? You gave us quite the run around just to corner yourselves here. Now, I for one don’t mind a good run to build up my appetite before I eat. But I think my men here might be a bit more ravenous than you’re prepared for.”
“We only came this far to pull you away from the forest!” As’os shouted back, trying to throw his voice far enough for the Maws to hear clearly, and trying not to move so as not to disturb Lassim’s spell. “Your blood is so filthy, we wouldn’t dare risk poisoning our trees with it!”
A tense moment passed with a murmur of angry grumblings from the Maws, before their leader finally broke the rumbling with a hearty laugh. “Hah! So, the tree hugger has some fire in his belly after all? I never thought I’d see the day!” He laughed again, and this time the greater part of his war party joined him, jeering and mocking as they did so until he held up his fist again to silence them. “Well then, let’s give you the chance to test that fire against the might of the Burning Maws!” He held his spear aloft before pointing it at the sand bar, and with a roar his forces charged ahead.
“They’ve taken the bait,” As’os said quietly to Lassim, who had their eyes closed in concentration. Not that they really needed that prompting, as the ground began to rumble noticeably with their charge. “Just hold it a little bit longer…”
‘Easier said than done,’ Lassim wanted to reply, but could only groan from the sustained effort. Their juniors grunted and strained as well, doing their best to offer their wills and energies to the spell, but the unexpected delay in the Maws’ charge compounded the difficulty. Finally, one could no longer hold the effort, and she collapsed away from the ritual, unconscious with a trickle of blood coming from her nose. The sudden drop in support stressed them further, and Lassim’s arms began to shake, holding the spell only from sheer willpower.
From the back, Ser’et saw the shaman woman collapse, and as the others gently pulled her out of the way to care for her, she saw the effort weighing on Lassim. She knew, at this rate, they would not be able to hold the spell long enough for the trap to be sprung. With a determined exhale, she made her way past the others to step in behind Lassim, taking the place of the fallen shaman.
“Little… one…,” Lassim started to say in protest, but had no additional energy to spare to continue. Ser’et simply shook her head to cast aside the misgivings and brought her hand up to grip their shoulder. As she made contact, her grip tightened in pain and she cried out as the strain suddenly overtook her body, but she held firm, adding her resolve to the effort of holding the spell. She closed her eyes tight as she held her focus, and with a strained voice recited like a litany, “We… Shall… Endure!”
Even the sound of the crashing waves were drowned out by the shouting and pounding of the Maws feet on the sand as they surged ahead. Within moments, that pounding was replaced by splashing as they ran through the surf of the waves rolling in. Their charge barely slowed, and onward they pressed, quickly closing the distance to the sand bar.
If they hadn’t been so oblivious with blood lust and focused on the sight of the pilgrimage on the sand bar, the Maws might have noticed the water just a short way off of the coast was suddenly boiling.
“Now!” As’os called to Lassim. The shaman, who was at this point panting from the sustained effort of holding their spell, released the held effort and slumped backwards into the waiting arms of their juniors and Ser’et. Collectively, they breathed a sigh of relief, still conscious but barely.
As they dropped the spell, the appearance of the group on the sand bar shimmered and then faded into oblivion. The Maws immediately halted their charge, finding themselves standing in the surf and looking all around them in confusion. Their leader scanned up and down the coastline, searching for the cowards’ hiding place to shout out and direct his men to slaughter them.
This confusion and searching did not last very long, however. The boiling of the sea had now become audible over the waves, roiling violently and drawing the attention of the Maws. All eyes looked on as out of the depths, one of the Deep Ones erupted from under the surface, held aloft by a jet of water. Their head and face were adorned with a headdress of bones of some horrid and toothy creature, and they held a staff of sharpened coral and bone that was dripping with black ichor.
“You DARE set foot in our waters with a war party?!” they shouted, magic enhancing their voice to make it so booming and deep that it caused one’s skull to rattle. The waves crashed against the shore so violently that the ground shook and almost took the Maws off their feet. “This insolence shall not stand! The shores shall be painted with your entrails until the next darkening of the moons, and we shall feast upon your pathetic hearts!”
In rapid succession, similarly bone clad warriors leapt to the shore from beneath the waves and set upon the Maws with reckless abandon. If any of the Plains tribe intended to retreat, those hopes were dashed as the magic wielding Aquatic, still suspended on their jet of water, moved their arms in a wrapping motion and brought a wall of roiling water out of the sea to enclose the space behind their charge and cut them off from returning inland.
As the two forces began to tear into one another, the pilgrimage looked on from their actual position in the scrub land overlooking the beach. As’os was the first to come to his senses, and as he tore his gaze away from the slaughter, he motioned for the group to move quickly and quietly away from the coast and back towards their original destination.