A second preview for the Legends of Okoto Travelers’ Guide (due to be released sometime tomorrow evening), given that the first was quite well received. This is Shellbe’s retelling of the Invasion of the Skull Raiders.
warning: while Birth of Okoto was a story on the relatively peaceful creation of the world, this one details the events of a war and a brutal one at that. Expect violence and some graphic imagery.
###The invasion of the Skull Raiders
Many of the archaeological discoveries and ruins that I have explored date to the invasion of the Skull Raiders rather than from the Great Cataclysm, especially in my home region, and while I believe that the cataclysm is still the greatest disaster that all of Okoto as a whole has ever suffered, for the regions of Stone and Water I’d say the Skull Raiders were worse. Still, in spite of how much digging I’ve done, I haven’t been able to figure out where the Skull Raiders came from; if anyone did, that knowledge is still buried somewhere or has been lost to the ages. I have been able to piece together a highly detailed account of their Invasion, though.
The first we saw of the Skull Raiders was in the appearance of a bizarre vessel on the horizon off of the Region of Water. It was larger than any ship previously seen on Okoto, a warship the likes of which we never had nor ever had a need for. The ship anchored off of one of the larger islands in the Region of Water, a place now known as Kulta’s landing: named “Kulta” after the first of them to set foot on our island, though few remember the name now. He was followed by hundreds more; creatures whose bodies resembled ours except in that they were considerably taller, and armed with much more formidable weaponry. They called themselves pirates, but we called them Skull Raiders because of these scowling, skull-like masks that they always wore, masks with deep, dark eye sockets and tapered bars like a komodo’s teeth that covered their mouths. Their leaders had horns, too; standing over any Okotan, they were beyond terrifying to look at and backed up their fearsome appearance with their actions: legends say that the first words to escape Kulta’s mouth as he looked around at this new world were: “all of value shall be ours. The rest will burn.”
And burn it did. The Skull Raiders moved fast into the region of water, setting fire to everything that wasn’t too soaked to light and sending hundreds of Okotans fleeing into the mountains and neighboring regions. They captured the grand city of Kel Akila, capital of the Region of Water at the time, and plundered its gold. Then they broke it down to the foundations and threw the rubble into Coral Bay just to make a statement: nothing is too strong for us tear down. Before long, that message reached Zol Uxala. Each tribe’s protector was summoned, and more were soon appointed to assist in dealing with the crisis. Before the protectors could even meet, however, the first of their number fell: Otural, the old Protector of Water who had barely escaped the destruction of Kel Akila, was intercepted and killed by a squadron of the raiders, his body tied to a post and paraded in front of the horde as a terrifying sign of what the depraved raiders were willing to do to any that dared to stand in their way. A replacement was quickly appointed in the person of Owaki, a promising warrior for whom the fight against the raiders was now deeply personal. As the Protectors deliberated on how to fight the invaders, however, the Skull Raiders changed tact: a single, giant horde under Kulta’s command had swept through the region of water, but they had little appetite for climbing the mountains dominating central Okoto. So, Kulta split his forces in two: he would lead half of them south into the Region of Jungle, while his lieutenant Ihtzul would lead the other half north into the Region of Ice.
A brilliant tactician but also a degenerate monster on the inside with no morality to speak of, Ihtzul had been the one responsible for the death and subsequent desecration of the body of Otural, which meant that he now had Owaki’s target on his back. Not that he would be an easy target, mind you, but from the moment that he learned that Ihtzul was taking a force north, Owaki insisted that he accompany the Protector of Ice, Uganu to mount a defense for the Region of Ice. Their status in Zol Uxala, however, meant that the final decision fell to the maskmakers instead, who were more concerned with protecting the Region of Jungle from Kulta and his group. After all, the skull raiders had already proven their taste for starting fires, and there was far more to burn in the Region of Jungle than in the Region of Ice. Ekimu therefore argued that all the protectors, other warriors, evocation wielders, and anyone else capable of and willing to mount a defense should head for the Mangroves, the border between the Regions of Water and Jungle. Kulta, he reasoned, would have to go through the mangroves with all of his forces, and the mangroves placed the advantage decidedly on the defender’s side in any engagement. The other protectors agreed, and so to the mangroves they went. Owaki’s revenge would have to wait.
The Battles of the Mangroves
The first clash between the Skull Raiders and the Protectors in the Mangroves was a short but very intense one; it all happened early in the morning, when thick fog limited visibility and made any large-scale command impossible. Being far more familiar with the terrain, the protectors and other Okotans claimed a victory in halting Kulta’s progress, but in reality they’d done only minor damage the Skull Raiders. Worse, in showing that Okoto could mount a determined defense unlike anything that the Skull Raiders had encountered in the Region of Water, the Battle of the Mangroves showed Kulta that he was going to have to do more than just point his raiders a certain direction and tell them to smash everything in front of them; he had to formulate a strategy, and this he did. When his forces returned to the mangroves three weeks later, the Okotans had dug in well. However, they weren’t facing a bunch of cold, wet, and tired raiders bungling about the swamp; they were facing a well-rested and determined enemy with an armada of small ships able to negotiate the flooded mangroves with ease. The result was catastrophic for the Okotans; holed up in makeshift fortifications on islands of dry ground, they were easily surrounded and overrun by the Skull Raiders in their nimble vessels. The forts were raised and their occupants slaughtered to a man; another brutal display of power to ensure that the Protectors would think twice about standing in front of the Skull Raiders again.
It was Ekimu who, in the aftermath of the second Battle of the Mangroves, realized that all the Okotans needed was time. The Skull Raiders were by no means invulnerable, but to really stand a chance against them in a fight, the Okotans needed the time to gather and equip an army the likes of which the island had never seen before. To get that time, though, they needed to make sure that Kulta and the Skull raiders would sit still for a while. Working with his brother in spite of their differences, Makuta proposed a dangerous gamble: to use Zol Uxala as bait. The city was built on a rocky escarpment in the middle of a deep chasm, unassailable from any angle except through a bridge across the chasm on one side. It also housed the greatest collection of wealth on Okoto; a natural lure for the commander whose entire goal was to take everything of value and burn the rest. With few other options, the Protectors and Ekimu agreed to go along with the plan; the survivors of the Second Battle of the Mangroves hurried back to the City of the Maskmakers, but left as many signs as they could think of to alert the Skull Raiders to the existence of vast quantities of wealth in the city. The lure proved irresistible to Kulta; just days after arriving in the city, the Protectors standing on the walls caught sight of the Skull Raider legion approaching on the road to the city. Kulta being Kulta, he ordered a head-on assault, but the bridge was too narrow to allow enough Skull Raiders through to overwhelm the gate. The city held against the first assault, though only just.
The Siege of Zol Uxala
Frustrated, Kulta did what he’d done after the first battle of the mangroves: he drew back and came up with a new plan. However, while the problems of the mangroves had been easy for him to solve, Zol Uxala proved truly impregnable, just as Makuta had gambled on. Five times Kulta assaulted the city in different ways, deploying everything from shield walls to giant rolling towers with extendable bridges for crossing the chasm, and every time the raiders were repulsed. So, with few options left, he resorted to a siege, to starve the holed-up Protectors and Okotans out. He did not know that, obscured by the clouds that always filled the chasm, the Okotans had dug vaults and tunnels underneath the city that could store years’ worth of food and water and, if necessary, even offered an alternative route in through the mountains of Central Okoto. The residents of the city had the supplies to last for years, and while they were stuck there, so was Kulta. The time the Okotans needed had been secured.
With the city’s defenses manned by guards commanded by Makuta and hardened through the three attacks that Kulta had already mounted by that point, the Protectors and Ekimu each headed out through the secret passage to return with all the forces they could muster from the other regions. They traveled from village to village for months, gathering troops as they went. And so, a little over a year after Kulta had first laid eyes on the City of the Maskmakers, he was still encamped there… and was slowly being surrounded by the Protectors and half the population of the island, now armed to the teeth. When the signal was sent up and the combined armies of Okoto came out of the jungle from behind Kulta’s forces, the Skull Raiders were utterly unprepared. They were routed, many fell into the chasm to their deaths, and the rest were chased around the city and into the mountains of Central Okoto. Kulta wouldn’t be able to threaten Zol Uxala again anytime soon.
The Scourge Ihtzul
While Kulta’s complete fixation on the wealth of the ancient city had proven his army’s downfall, up north his lieutenant had been far more successful. Ihtzul and his forces had successfully crossed the Silent Land and demolished the Water and Ice tribes’ villages and the city of Kel Melo in the process. Now, they faced the spine: the mountain chain crossing midway through the Region of Ice studded with Ice tribe forts garrisoned by the Twilight Watch. Unlike Kulta, Ihtzul took his time, sending scouts up and down the mountain range to determine the easiest crossing point. Having identified it in Deep Snow Pass, he sent a small contingent of his force to mount an assault on a fort well to the south of it as a diversion. With the Shadow Watch’s attention focused on that fort, Ihtzul pushed the rest of his forces through Deep Snow Pass with only a modicum of resistance. The planes of the howl and with them the whole Region of Ice now lay open to him. However, the incredibly inhospitable nature of the Howl caused him to quickly turn back; the Region of Ice simply wasn’t worth raiding or trying to hold, with one possible exception: the City of the Veil.
Located in the mountains where the Region of Ice, Water, and Stone meet, the City of the Veil was heavily fortified and surrounded by redoubts in all the nearby mountains. The largest of these, the fortress of Altitude, was also the sole official gateway to the city, albeit not such as precarious one as the bridge leading into the Zol Uxala. Again, Ihtzul took his time surveying the entire region before formulating a plan of attack… or well, he would’ve made a plan of attack if he’d been Kulta, but of course he wasn’t. Kulta would’ve thrown everything at Altitude and the City of the Veil ten times over to try and get a hold of their riches, but Ihtzul concluded that he didn’t have the manpower to take the city without unacceptable casualties… well, unacceptable casualties on his troops. Instead, he conquered some of the smaller, more isolated forts around the city in a terrifying campaign. He didn’t just conquer these forts: he razed them to the ground, then mounted the bodies of all their unfortunate defenders on stakes which he had planted all over the mountains surrounding the City of the Veil; he wasn’t going to take the city, not yet, but he left the defenders holed up inside with no doubt about what would happen if he did. It was through these brutal actions that he earned the nickname “the Scourge Ihtzul,” and no one doubted that at some point his army would be marching into the City of the Veil. But then, stunning everyone, he moved on. I guess he concluded that there was nothing in the Region of Ice worth taking that he was able to take at the time, but then there also was a real prize right next door: the Region of Stone.
While Ihtzul established himself as a specter of doom hovering over the City of the Veil, Ekimu and the Protectors had passed through the Region of Stone, recruiting everyone available to help in the assault on Kulta’s forces surrounding Zol Uxala. They reckoned that the mountains and the City of the Veil would stop Ihtzul, would hold his attention in the way that Zol Uxala was keeping Kulta’s, but they had reckoned wrong. Never one to fixate on a single goal to the detriment of all others like his master, Ihtzul realized that the Region of Stone had been left as good as undefended. So, having assured that no one in the Region of Ice would sleep soundly or dare to venture far outside their fortresses for a while, he ordered his forces to cross the mountains completely and head west. What followed was possibly the greatest tragedy for the Okotans during the entire invasion of the Skull Raiders; Ihtzul intended not just to sack and loot everything in the Region of Stone, but also to bury an entire tribe and their legacy, and he very nearly succeeded. His forces swept out over the living sands and Monument Plain like a plague, leaving nothing but ruins and the heads of their victims mounted on pikes behind. In a matter of weeks, the numbers of the Stone Tribe were cut in half, and those remaining were holed up in the cities of Dan Solith and Caira Crim.
The Fall of Caira Crim
Caira Crim was the capital of the entire island, a prize even Ihtzul couldn’t ignore, and while it had no mountains or great chasm to protect it, its high walls were no inconsiderable obstacle. Being on the coast, however, it did have a harbor, and because of this offered both the people holed up there a way out and Ihtzul a way in. As skull raider units arrived from across the desert and ominously set up camp around Caira Crim, boats loaded with people fleeing the city set off for the Regions of Earth and Ice every day. For nearly a month, the city gradually emptied, the people taking most of its important artifacts with them while Ihtzul sat and waited for backup to arrive. You may wonder what backup he was waiting for; Kulta was still encamped around Zol Uxala, several mountain ranges and two regions away and more interested in that city regardless. No, Ihtzul recognized that while Caira Crim would be expensive to take from land, it was very vulnerable from the sea. He had sent not for the Kulta, but for the Skull Raiders’ giant warship. Reports of it sailing around the Region of Ice towards Caira Crim soon halted all ship traffic in that direction. Just out of sight of the city, it anchored and a large segment of Ihtzul’s forces went aboard. That night, they sailed for the harbor under the cover of darkness. On the very same day that the forces of Okoto descended on Kulta’s raiders around Zol Uxala, marking the end of the Skull Raider leader’s march of conquest, Ihtzul’s forces assaulted the capital from outside the walls and inside the harbor simultaneously. The Capital city of all Okoto fell in a matter of hours, its more fortunate remaining residents killed and buried under rubble while those less fortunate were tied to posts in Ihtzul’s signature manner and carried around like banners by his forces.
News of the devastation Ihtzul had brought on the Stone Region reached Zol Uxala right after Kulta’s defeat. Horrified, the Protectors and maskmakers were faced with a difficult choice: something had to be done about Ihtzul, but Kulta’s forces could still come out of the mountains to threaten Zol Uxala again or appear in another region entirely if they weren’t pursued and captured or destroyed. Owaki and Ugo, Protectors of Water and Stone, respectively, were determined to head north to avenge the losses their people had already suffered, while Uganu, the Protector of Ice, was anxious to link up with his people and to learn what had happened around the City of the Veil. The decision was made: Ekimu and those three Protectors would lead the majority of the force that they had amassed towards the Region of Stone to deal with Ihtzul, while the Protectors of Fire, Earth, and Jungle would join Makuta and the rest of the army in pursuing Kulta into the mountains.
The Battle of Dan Solrith
Ekimu and his Protectors hurried around the mountains and through the Regions of Earth and Stone to reach the city of Dan Solrith, the last outpost of the Stone tribe and the last spot in the entire region capable of mounting a defense. Thanks to Ekimu’s airship, they themselves managed it with time to spare, though most of their force was days behind. Using the airship to map Ihtzul’s movements, Ekimu determined that the Skull Raiders under his command had been split into three groups and were moving to surround the city of Dan Solrith. Carved straight into the side of a canyon, Dan Solrith wasn’t a very big city but it was a very secure one. Ihtzul planned on assaulting it with two groups from both sides of the canyon, cutting off any easy means of escape for the residents, while making his third group repel down from the top of the cliffs to infiltrate the city from above. Ekimu and the protectors knew that their army, though larger than Ihtzul’s, could not afford to take on all of the Skull Raider forces descending on Dan Solrith at once. They could, however, mount an ambush on their easternmost division right at the canyon entrance, which is exactly what they did and to great effect. One-third of Ihtzul’s army was caught in a vulnerable position with a force four times their size firing down on them; none survived to inform Ihtzul of the destruction of a whole section of his army. Hurrying west after the victory, the Okotan army would reach Dan Solith around the same time as Ihtzul’s remaining forces; the survival of the severely under-garrisoned city depended on them getting there as quickly as possible.
As it happened, Ekimu, the Protectors, and their army reached the city only minutes after Ihtzul’s forces did. Having assumed up until that point that the giant dust cloud rising up out of the canyon’s east end had been due to his own approaching eastern force, Ihtzul had ordered the assault. He was staggered to find that, rather than watching two Skull Raider armies converge on the city from the east and west, the eastern one had been replaced by an Okotan army racing towards his western force. The two forces clashed head-on before the gates of Dan Solrith, but the with the skull raiders heavily outnumbered the battle quickly turned to the Okotans’ favor. The raiders repelling from the cliff onto the city’s rooftops were in trouble, too; though their position offered them a great vantage point to fire into the melee breaking out below, they were in turn coming under fire from Ekimu’s airship above the battle. Ekimu and the protectors landed at the very same spot that the repelling Skull Raiders had set off from to face off against the only ones left on the vantage point: Ihtzul himself and a guard composed of some of his best raiders.
Though not as grand in scale as the battle around Zol Uxala, the battle of Dan Solrith was all the more memorable for occurring at three different levels: on the canyon floor in front of the city, a massive force of Okotans was making some progress against a third of Ihtzul’s forces, on the rooftops of the city Skull raiders were firing both up at Ekimu’s airship and at archers stationed across the canyon, both of whom were firing down on them in return, and above the city on the northwest side of the canyon Ekimu and the protectors were engaged in a fierce struggle with Ihtzul himself and his personal guard. With all their regions had suffered, Ugo and Owaki pushed the hardest, making their way past the guards engaged with Ekimu and Uganu to go after Ihtzul himself. Wielding a set of bladed weapons fitted with revolving blasters not unlike the elemental ones wielded by the Protectors, Ihtzul was more than a match for them, though. Charging, Ugo unleashed a sandblast into the villain’s face with his sandstone blaster, intending to push in right after it. However, the sandblast was just as blinding to him, and he couldn’t see that, far from being deterred, Ihtzul pushed through it and towards him weapon-first. To the horror of Owaki, Ekimu, and Uganu, the sandstone blaster suddenly dropped at Ugo’s side as the Protector of Stone was run through by one of Ihtzul’s weapons. Ihtzul lifted the weapon and Ugo with it off of the ground, unleashed a magazine’s worth of rounds from the weapon’s blaster into the Protector’s face, then swung the blade around his side, sending the lifeless body flying off to his right and into the canyon. Enraged, Owaki unleashed a volley of shots of his own, aiming for Ihtzul’s mask and temporarily stunning him. The Protector of water followed it up by shouting “FOR OTURAL!”, charging forward and planting both spear points of his weapon into Ihthzul’s body. Leveraging all his strength, Owaki pushed on towards the edge of the canyon, and with a final set of water blasts sent Ihtzul careening towards the bottom. Kulta’s lieutenant landed among his troops on the canyon floor, dead on impact. It was the final turning point of the battle; unsettled and without a commander, the Skull Raiders couldn’t put up a fight as the cohesive unit that they had been. One by one, they were cut down, never to hurt an Okotan again.
While the Battle of Dan Solrith was going on, Makuta and Mamuk, Etoku, and Agarak, Protectors of Fire, Earth, and Jungle, respectively, led a still sizable group of Okotans in a mad chase after Kulta and his remaining Skull Raiders high in to Okoto’s central mountains. The Skull Raiders were haggard and low on supplies, but would still put up a fight if they had to. Makuta and company pursued him into the very center of the island, where deep gorges and chasms separated the mountains, and it was in one of these gorges that they caught up with Kulta and his Skull Raiders. Having flown over the mountains in his airship many times, Makuta knew the gorge that they were in to be a dead end and chased Kulta through it deliberately. He also used his airship to get Agarak and a number of other skilled archers and evocation wielders onto the mountains near its end; the end of the gorge would also the be the end of Kulta and his Skull Raiders.
And indeed, several days after Ihtzul and his force had been destroyed around Dan Solith (though no one in the mountains was yet aware of it), Kulta and his Skull Raiders were backed into the end of the gorge, facing an Okotan army led by Makuta, Mamuk, and Etoku and about to be fired down upon by Agarak and his company on the high ground. Realizing he had nowhere to turn and unwilling to beg for mercy (not that he would have gotten any if he did), Kulta ordered the Skull Raiders to charge forwards into Makuta’s army; with any luck, perhaps they could break out. They didn’t, but the hail of fire that was unleashed on them did open up a new opportunity: several powerful elemental blasts from the ridgeline above, aimed at the tail end of the Skull Raider force, instead struck the back wall of the gorge and opened up an entrance into a cave beyond. Looking back, Kulta spotted the opportunity, and just before the first Skull Raiders met the Okotans head-on, he ordered all of them to turn about and head for the cave. Under heavy fire, the Skull Raiders turned and did so, disappearing into the cave like water down a drain. Kulta himself was one of the last ones to make it in before a clever evocation wielder of the Stone Tribe by the name of Kerato turned his power onto the mountainside above the gorge. He began pulling out chunk after chunk of it, sending them down towards the last of the Skull Raiders. Agarak, realizing what Kerato was doing, called down to the Okotans in the gorge to back off, to get away from the cave entrance as fast as possible. Makuta gave the order to retreat, letting the final Skull Raiders slip away into the cave, then watched as a large section of the mountainside, destabilized by Kerato tearing chunks out of it, collapsed into the end of the gorge, filling it with tons upon tons of rubble, sealing the cave entrance and trapping Kulta and the remaining Skull Raiders within.
Reckoning that without food, water, or tools to clear the entrance, the Skull Raiders could not survive inside the cave for long, the Protectors declared that the Skull Raiders had been destroyed and that the island was safe once again. Celebrations and funerals were held in equal measure over the next month, especially on Dan Solrith and Zol Uxala, the two cities that had borne the greatest burden and that were still standing and populated. Caira Crim, which Ihtzul had never quite bothered to raze in the way that the cities in the Region of Water had been, soon saw the return of many of its inhabitants, who moved to fix what had been broken and restore the capital to its former glory. For his actions in sealing the last of the Skull Raiders inside of that cave, Kerato was named the new Protector of Stone to replace Ugo. In my home region, the months after the Skull Raiders’ defeat saw the founding of Frostwater, some distance south and east of where Kel Melo had been. Owaki himself supervised construction of the new city, though the coming events would ensure that it would never see the glory that Kel Melo and particularly Kel Akila had seen.
As to what became of the Skull Raiders… well, even though they were declared as good as dead at the time, I’m not sure we’re actually rid of them. For starters, they left a plague behind, one whose effects weren’t to become evident until years afterwards. Also, as I wandered the streets of the Zol Uxala, or rather the ruin that it is today, I caught a glimpse of a strange creature. It wasn’t one of the myriad of twisted, plague-wracked rahi that wander through the city in numbers and in open view; no, it was humanoid, and had a stature decidedly like that of the Skull Raiders. It was skeletal in a way that many of the infected rahi are, but I could swear that I that its skull-face wasn’t actually its face at all; it looked like a mask of the Skull Raiders. There is no way the Skull Raiders that were driven into the mountains so long ago are still alive today, unless some sinister power has unnaturally extended their livespans. I suppose that’s possible, but then again it has been thousands of years. Their invasion has long since passed into history, and ill-recorded history at that before I pieced together this account from scraps all over the island. Most Okotans can’t tell you much about the Skull Raiders anymore beyond the fact that they once invaded the island and that we beat them off. They’re bogeymen now, their names forgotten and replaced with titles like “Skull Grinder” for Kulta, “Skull Basher” for one of his lieutenants, and “Skull Skopio” for the six-legged creatures some of his “Skull Warriors” rode into battle. Ihtzul’s name has been purposely buried like those of so many of his victims; I only found out who he was by delving into the old, mostly collapsed archives of Dan Solrith. Still, having seen this one creature, the possibility of one or more of those bogeymen still existing in the mountains, or worse in the city where Ekimu was laid to rest, is one that sends chills down my spine.
It may be a rather open-ended conclusion, but that is the best I can write on the Skull Raiders for now. Regardless, their invasion isn’t what shaped the Okoto you’ll see today. Yes, the year-and-a-half battle between the Okotans and the Skull Raiders had taken a staggering toll on much of the island, but it had left the regions of Fire, Earth, and Ice relatively untouched; the events that followed, having been brewing since long before the Skull Raiders arrived, would take their toll on all the regions. Want to know how Zol Uxala became the ruin that it is today, and why you won’t even find Caira Crim on a map anymore? Well, let me tell you about the Battle of the Mask Makers.