I need to make a note to myself not to arrive first for meetings.
Not that I don’t like being first, but Izotor always arrives before anyone else. And spending any time alone with him is something I prefer to avoid.
Maybe I should back up a bit. My name is Nilkuu. I am currently the leader of the Village of Stone on the island of Okoto. There are six villages here on Okoto, and each one has a leader, also called a Protector. As a general rule, the village elders get along pretty well. Except for the fact that the Protector of Ice completely hates me.
I don’t generally arrive so early for meetings, but this one was special. Today, we were summoning the heroes that would save Okoto, or so the legend said. Excited, I got there early, and arrived at the same time as Izotor. He bumped against me and knocked me off a small ledge, then acted like it was an accident.
Why does he hate me? Our fathers got along just fine, and all the other Protectors get along fine.
Actually, I do know why. But it’s kinda a sad story. Well, as long as I’m laying here on the ground waiting for the other Protectors to show up, I might as well tell it.
1 year ago…
Nilkuu stood in the center of the council of elders. This was a place he’d been before, but only once when he was young, and it felt different to stand here when he was an actual leader of a village.
Of course, he still considered himself an “unofficial” leader. He had taken the role of leader since his dad had disappeared, taken by the Skull Spiders during their first attack on the Stone Village. He had not been seen since, but Nilkuu would not give up. He would never believe his dad was dead until he saw it with his own eyes.
Which he hoped would be soon. The other Protectors were setting out to find his dad. Nilkuu wanted to go, too, but he had no one to protect the village in his absence. His dad was gone, his mother had been wounded during the Skull Spider’s attack, and he had no living sibling, nor anyone he had trained to lead the village. He had to stay and lead.
“We’ll be back before you know we’re gone.”
Nilkuur snapped out of his reverie and saw Narmoto, leader of the Fire village. Narmoto had been a leader longer than any of the other Protectors, and even though he was no longer the leader of the Protector Council, the other elders still looked up to him for his experience.
“And I’m not just saying that,” Narmoto said. “Leading a village is rough, especially if you’re the only one there. You won’t have time to worry about us.”
“Great,” Nilkuu said. “I have to lead the village on my own, with no experience?”
“Relax,” Narmoto said. “You’ll do fine. If you don’t know what to do, talk to your mom. She’ll help you out.”
“Still, I wish I could go with you,” Nilkuu said.
“I know,” Narmoto said. “It won’t be long before you see your dad at the gates. The Skull Spiders can’t have gone far.”
“And if he’s…?” Nilkuu couldn’t finish the sentence.
“Then you’ll know when you see me at the gates of your village alone,” Narmoto said. “But don’t worry. We won’t let you down.”
“Are you all ready?” Vizuna said.
Sometimes, Narmoto really didn’t like Vizuna’s utter lack of emotion. Some leaders would have given an inspirational speech, or tried to cheer up the others. Vizuna simply said what needed to be said.
Four Protectors were setting out: Kivoda, the leader of the Water Village; Korgot, the Protector of Earth; Vizuna, the Protector of Jungle; and Narmoto, leader of the Fire tribe. Poeye, the leader of the Ice Tribe, had already gone off on his own after Poron, and his son Izotor had gone after him, both leaving of their own volition. Narmoto wished they had waited. Going after a horde of Skull Spiders alone was likely suicide, even for a Protector’s son, and Narmoto had no idea what the young Izotor was thinking. In addition to being a reckless idiot, Izotor had left the village of Ice unprotected. Kivoda’s sister, Myst, was protecting the village of Ice for the time being, and Narmoto wasn’t sure who Kivoda had left to lead the Water Village in her absence.
Nilkuu was there too, ready to bid the other Protectors farewell. Narmoto decided to leave him on a happy note.
“We’ll go get your father, and make those Skull Spiders regret taking him,” Narmoto said. “But you might not see him for a bit afterward. He’ll probably want to swat a few spiders.”
“I should hope we get Poron back,” Korgot said. “Nilkuu, running the Stone Village alone, with no experience? Probably not good.”
“Kigoto! Don’t be rude,” Kivoda snapped.
“It was only a joke,” Narmoto said. “Does no one have a sense of humor?”
“He’s right, too,” Vizuna added. “We’re all leaving our villages behind. The sooner we get back, the better.”
Narmoto checked his gear once more. Then he and the other Protectors followed Vizuna, following the Skull Spiders’ trail northward.
Poron walked through the desert valley, surrounded by Skull Spiders. He showed no sign of alarm or concern, though. This was probably due to the Skull Spider on his face, controlling his every movement.
Just a week ago, the sight of a horde of Skull Spiders marching together like a civilized army was something no one ever saw. Now, it had become a common sight, though not one anyone wanted to see.
One of the Skull Spiders paused, evidently listening. Then it broke away from the rest, heading back the way the Spiders had come, crawling into the rocks. It searched the rocks for a while, then, satisfied that there was nothing there, it turned around to follow the other spiders.
It turned around just in time to see a spear. And that was the last thing it ever saw.
Poeye tossed the dead Skull Spider aside. Another one Skull Spider was dead, but Poeye couldn’t continue with this strategy forever. Killing the Spiders one at a time would take way too long. Eventually, Poeye would need to take a few risks if he wanted to save Poron.
Poeye crept through the rocks, watching the Skull Spiders. Like it or not, he needed to face one of them in combat, rather than an ambush. He knew all the abilities the Skull Spiders had, but that was before their sudden change. Now, they had the ability to control minds, and only a fool would assume that was their only new ability.
Poeye was contemplating the best way to get a single Skull Spider away from the rest when he felt something behind him. He turned around, and found himself face-to-face with a Skull Spider. The spider’s face was about the ugliest thing he had ever seen, and Poeye jumped back.
The Skull Spider was silent. Usually, they made a clicking noise as they travelled. They never snuck up on an opponent. Poeye made a mental note to add stealth to the list of the Skull Spider’s new abilities.
“All right,” Poeye said. “Make your move. Let’s see what you’ve got.”
The Skull Spider just stood there. Poeye was almost tempted to kill it right then and there, but he needed to know what abilities these things had.
Suddenly, the Skull Spider leapt at Poeye’s face. Poeye dodged, thrusting with his spear, but the Spider was faster than he anticipated, and he missed. The spider landed, turned with shocking speed, and leapt again. Poeye couldn’t dodge, so he brought his arm up, whacking the Skull Spider. Its claws reached for Poeye’s mask.
“You call that an attack?” Poeye said. “I’ve faced tougher slugs.”
The Skull Spider leapt upward, somehow. Poeye wasn’t sure how it was able to leap up. It leapt completely over his head, forcing him to twist around to face it.
That’s when he realized he had rested all of his weight against a loose stone. The stone gave way, and Poeye fell with it.
That thing planned that. Poeye realized. It tricked me into hitting that rock.
Poeye landed hard on the ground. He instantly realized he was surrounded by Skull Spiders, and he leapt to his feet. “C’mon, then! I can kill you all!”
“Can you? Or are you just being cocky, as usual?”
Poeye’s hopes climbed at hearing a fellow Protector’s voice. Those hopes crashed when he realized the voice came from Poron, or rather, the Skull Spider on his face.
“Y’know, I know new Masks are hard to come by since Ekimu and Makuta vanished, but surely you can find something better than an ugly spider?” Poeye said. Before Poron could answer, Poeye jabbed at him with his spear. With careful aim, he hit the spider without hitting Poron’s face. To his surprise, nothing came from the wound, but one of Poron’s hands rose to the wound.
Several dozen Spiders leapt at Poeye at once. He raised his weapons to defend himself, even as he realized that he could never beat them all. He paid no attention to Poron’s body stumbling aside, then falling to the ground, the Skull Spider on his face twitching in pain but not letting go.
Poron’s hands rose to the spider, at first seeming to try to cover the new wound. Then, they grabbed the spider and ripped it off of Poron’s face.
“You do not control me!” Poron said.
But it did. Even though the Skull Spider was gone, its influence still held sway over Poron. Against his will, he tried to grab Poeye and hold him so the Skull Spiders could take control of him. Poeye elbowed him hard, and Poron stumbled backwards.
“I’m sorry,” Poeye said.
Poron didn’t hear him. He could feel his own consciousness slipping away from reality again. Yet, as he stumbled away from Poeye and the Skull Spider horde, the influence seemed to dim. Noticing this, Poron willed his body to get as far away from the Skull Spiders as he could. Somehow, he succeeded. Then he blacked out.
Poron awoke to someone shaking him. He opened his eyes, and was surprised to see Izotor, Poeye’s son.
“Are you all right?” Izotor asked. “What happened?”
It took Poron a moment to gather his memories, which were jumbled for some reason. “Your father tried to save me,” he said. “I… I think he wound up falling under the Skull Spider’s influence.”
“They’re gonna regret that, then,” Izotor said. “We’ll make sure of it.”
“Hold on,” Poron said. “What are you doing here?”
“I came after my dad,” Izotor said.
“Alone?” Poron said.
“Well, yeah,” Izotor said.
Poron shook his head. “Kid, you’ve got more guts then brains. What were you thinking?”
“I was thinking that dad went off on his own, and might need help,” Izotor said.
“Your father is a warrior with experience,” Poron replied. “Do you even know how to use that blaster?” Poron pointed at the blaster in Izotor’s hand.
“I can hit a Slent at 40 bio,” Izotor said. “Every time.”
Poron considered ordering Izotor to go home, but he realized that Izotor would never listen, and it was better for Izotor to be at his side than secretly following behind him.
“Fine,” Poron muttered. “Let’s go save your father.”
The pair followed the trail of the Skull Spiders. Poron felt no hint of the influence of the Skull Spiders, but he had warned Izotor to keep an eye on him in case.
Finally, the trail led the two up a mountain to a temple, the likes of which neither had seen. On the hard rock floor of the temple, it was impossible to tell which way Poeye and the Spiders had gone.
“We should split up,” Izotor said. “We can find my dad.” Before Poron could object, Izotor sprinted off. Poron reluctantly also began searching.
The temple was full of carvings, most of which were unfamiliar to Poron. He recognized Ekimu and Makuta at one point, and what looked like the Elemental Masters in a mosaic.
Finally, in a large, circular room, Poron found Poeye. The Protector of Ice was standing in the center of the room, a Skull Spider on his face. His Noble Mask of Ice was in his hand.
Poeye had heard Poron’s approach, and he turned around. “Excellent,” he said. “Another to add to our sway.”
“I think not,” Poron said. “Come on, Poeye, you can fight it.”
“No, he can’t,” Poeye said. “This close to the source, there is no way he could fight it even if the spider came off.”
“Source?” Poron said.
“Yes,” Poeye said. “The source is–”
Poron knew he needed to know what Poeye was about to say. He also knew the Skull Spider knew that too. Against his better judgment, he thrusted with his lance, aiming for the Spider and piercing it. Then he pulled it from Poeye’s face. Poeye cried out as the Spider’s claws ripped across the sides of his head.
Poron expected Poeye to black out, like he had. Instead, Poeye attacked. Poron narrowly avoided the spear aimed at his heart.
“Poeye, fight it!” Poron said. “Don’t let that thing control you!”
“I can’t…” Poeye said. His spear scraped the side of Poron’s face. Poron had no idea what to do; he couldn’t fight if he didn’t want to hurt Poeye, but Poeye had no compunctions about hurting him.
Then Poron stumbled, losing his balance. Poeye took advantage, stabbing at Poron’s chest. Poron closed his eyes, waiting for death.
It never came.
Poron realized that Poeye had paused mid-lunge. “Get up and stop me!” Poeye said. “I can’t fight it much longer!”
Poron leapt up, grabbing for Poeye’s neck. If he could make Poeye black out, he could drag the Ice Protector’s body away from the Source, whatever that meant.
Then he heard a young voice screaming “No!”
Poeye’s knife was aimed at Poron. Poron grabbed it, hoping to avoid impaling himself with it.
The he felt something sharp impale his body, and realized he was looking into the eyes of Izotor, holding another knife. And then he saw nothing.
Izotor collapsed to his knees. He had failed. Poeye’s knife had stuck him. And now, both Protectors were dead.
Izotor sat there for a long moment, crying. He didn’t even notice when the other four Protectors came in the room behind him. Having fought a ton of Skull Spiders on the way here, they were ready for a huge fight. They were not ready for the sight of two dead protectors and Poeye’s son on his knees, broken.
“Visitors at the gate!”
Nilkuu almost leapt to his feet, ready to run to the gate. Then he paused, looking at the two villagers whose dispute he had been attempting to resolve. They both looked at him, understanding.
“Go,” one of them said. “We can solve this later.”
Nilkuu needed no further prompting. He ran to the gate, his heart pounding, both excited and afraid of what he might see.
He skidded to a halt at the gate, seeing a red-armored villager. It took him a moment to realize it was Narmoto, alone.
And then he realized that his father was gone.
Izotor never talked about what happened that day. All I can guess is that either my dad or his got under the Skull Spider’s control, and they died fighting. Izotor blames my dad for their deaths, and now he hates me. I know why. I just don’t understand why.
And this is my entry for the Message Boards anniversary contest.