The following is a report written by the leader of a Riverfolk expedition that traveled to the Thousand Rainbow Isles one year ago.
It is sung that over a hundred years ago, seven Riverfolk ships sailed to the drowned lands that were once our home, to the sunken tower that was once our people’s crowning glory. It was to be a tale of redemption, another victory for our Kingdom’s heroes to add to their own long list of accomplishments.
Seven ships we took as well, your brightest and your bravest and most guileful. I write now as this task to you nears completion – you must forgive your Hand’s poor writing and the many marring scratches on this parchment. At least, this record (and this messenger bird) will survive me and the rest of my doomed expedition.
And just as our ancient heroes met with grim betrayal and ill fate, so too did we find our doom.
When neared the Rainbow Isles, the air was heavy. The sun hid behind dark clouds while we remained among the archipelago’s grasp. Eduardo could hardly breathe, he stayed in my ship’s hold while we did as you bid. We knew in our bones that it would be terrible work, dangerous work. But I am the Hand to my Datu and like the rest of my Fleet, I am bound by sky and sea* to my task.
The few islands we examined were barren, emptied of flora and fauna. These scourged lands were only the fringe of the archipelago, the other islands at its core remained sunken beneath the waves.
The mists crept upon us while we were studying the island of Palavan. They were swift, nipping at our heels one moment and then rendering our Fleet blind the next. Our charts and divinations became of little use, but we tried nonetheless to leave the archipelago…but we were too late.
The mists thinned when we saw Arauan, the sunken tower, grasping at us with an eldritch, purple glow. For all our attempts to escape it, my King — the curse had brought us to its heart.
When we saw that light piercing through the murk, the bells began to toll. Despite its volume, this death knell could not mask the sickening sound of horrors pulling themselves over railing and of tentacles grasping mast and hull.
And… those things… Adarna blind me in her mercy…
They were moaning and writhing in pain, eyes clouded with death sight and sickly black magics. Flotsam and blood and ragged indigo clung wetly to briny flesh. They clawed at us and at their very touch, my shipmates cried out in agony. I saw them grab hold of Celia Many-Fish… she died so quickly. She screamed and screamed like a wounded animal.
They were everywhere, dancing shadows in the wan purple haze. I heard screams in the distance from the other ships. There was a sickening snap as a mast was rendered into splinters – Captain Roanoke’s ship, I think.
For all these tales of brutality, I fear more for those who were dragged away and down into the waves. Their fate will be the worst, if your theory holds truth, my King.
Before I was dragged away by my crew to safety, I saw her… I saw the Reader. Our records tell us that she sacrificed herself to save us all… but Riza the Reader swept upon our ships alongside those monsters. Everyone that touched her with fists or sliced her with blades fell writhing upon the ground. My memory is mercifully hazy shortly after her appearance.
That was last night. With the exception of boatswain Eduardo, who took the other lifeboat, my crew gave their last to ensure my escape. Keralzo, my second mate, shoved my writing box and a bird-cage into my arms before a tendril found his foot and pulled him into dark waters.
The wind is silent now. The skies are dark and the seas churn with… things. There is nothing left to me except hungry mists and tolling bells and the truth behind every guttering, flickering hearth – that warmth and light are fleeting lies in the face of the very end. By I have sworn by sky and sea, by sun and shadow…I would see this task to its very end.
If it please my King… tell my sons I love them. Tell my daughters to be strong. And tell my husband that my return will be delayed until the next season, but I shall bring Callasine spring-wine with me. I know he will understand.
Admiral Imelda Sa-lupa
Hand of Marya II, the King in Jade
“Spring awaits us all”
(written with assistance by Vanessa Nichols)