I looked up to see a man, hidden in the shadows of the vegetation. He was not like the golden and purpled-skinned beings that I'd just been accosted by. Instead, he appeared to be human.
He spoke. "So, what transgression led you to be imprisoned here?"
Puzzled, I replied, "Transgression? I've simply been shipwrecked. No one's 'imprisoned' me on this island."
"Shipwrecked?" said the man. "Impossible. The lunatic that runs this place has made sure it is impenetrable. You are standing in the Asylum, stranger. We have been trapped here for two hundred years."
This got me thinking. If this area was meant as a prison, then it would explain the massive walls that stretched across the landscape. The entities that captured me must have been the jailers. That would explain their hostility. However, the most intriguing part of this man's story was the claim that he'd been here for over two centuries. He didn't look particularly old. Even then, a human rarely ever lives for even one century, much less two.
I perked up a bit. The chance to learn something new was always exciting.
"My name is Rickard Calvert! I don't know how I ended up here, but this land is most curious. What can you tell me about it?"
The man laughed in response, a high-pitched almost maniacal sound. It put me on edge.
"Oh, that's funny, my friend. Come with me. Let me introduce you to the rest of the prisoners."
He emerged out of the thicket and started to walk down a thin dirt path, beckoning me along. I followed suit.
The path led to a large ruin similar to the one I'd encountered in the marsh, but in much better shape. Walls ringed a central courtyard, with a few towers around the perimeter. We walked through a gate and into the area.
People milled all about the courtyard. To the right, on an slightly raised platform, someone was stirring a pot. My guide approached him.
"Quintillian! What's for dinner tonight, then?"
The man called Quintillian jumped a bit, then replied. "Beetle broth, my prophet. It's about all we've been able to eat since starting the Tomato Project."
"Ah, well." my guide replied. "We all must make sacrifices."
Quintillian calling my guide a "prophet" set me on edge. I have only met one true prophet in my life, and he died a terrible death to a werebear in Northpoint. Every other "prophet" I've known has used the title to drum up support for questionable causes. Perhaps it was nothing, but perhaps my new acquaintances were even worse than their jailers. We proceeded through another gateway into a larger courtyard. As we entered, my guide put up his hands and began to speak. Everyone in the courtyard immediately ceased what they were doing, giving their prophet their full attention.
"Exiles! We have a new member to welcome into our fold!" He beckoned to me.
I was taken aback. I hadn't agreed to being welcomed to any type of fold. However, I did not protest. It felt unwise to refuse him now.
"We exiles have been here for so many, many years." the prophet continued. "In the past, the Apostles and Priests have not seen eye-to-eye, but I hope that this new spirit of cooperation will lead to a glorious new future. We are all locked in here together, my friends. We cannot hope to overcome our bonds when we are at one another's throats."
He clapped me on the back. "This is Rickard Calvert! He appears to have been thrown in here with the rest of us. Although his memory of how he came to be here seems to have failed him, it does not matter where he comes from or what creed he follows. He is one of us now."
In concluded his speech and turned to me. "Now, Rickard. Let us go down into the ruin, and I can show you where you can rest your head."
While the chance to get some sleep did sound like a tempting offer, I felt a need to break off my association with these prisoners. Too much seemed wrong about them, and I had the sinking suspicion that it would be harder to escape if I stepped into their fort.
I raised my arms in a welcoming gesture. "Oh, of course my friend!" I grasped both of his forearms in a friendly manner and smiled cheerfully at him.
"Excellent! I am glad-" the man began. Before he could finish his statement, I tightened my grip on him and jerked him towards me into a solid headbutt. He let out a cry of pain, briefly dazed. In that moment, I threw him onto the ground and began to sprint out of the compound. I had a good three second head start before the rest of these men realized what had happened to their leader.
So, again, I was running for my life, pursued by a group of angry humanoids. I would be lying if I said this was an uncommon for me. The mob behind me was loud, and very angry. I imagine headbutting their prophet was some type of terrible transgression in whatever religion these unruly chaps followed. They began to throw things at me: rocks, tomatoes, and most interestingly, forks. Quite sharp forks, I might add.
I skidded around a corner and looked back to see my pursuers. I stopped in my tracks when I saw what was happening behind me. A large group of the golden and purple-skinned entities had appeared shortly after they began chasing me. They were ringing the mob with their shields outstretched, forcing them back into their ruin. After a minute of two of this, all the exiles had been dispersed. Two of the golden-skinned guards stayed outside the ruin to keep watch as the rest left in the direction they'd came.
With that, I decided I'd seen quite enough of this place. I had a book full of excellent research notes and plenty of stories to tell to the folks back at my hunting lodge. However, a day consisting of two heart-pounding chases by dangerous pursuers was quite enough, even for Rickard Calvert.
I headed downhill and over into the dark lands. Upon arriving on the large stretch of coast, I got to work. I gathered several pieces of wood and brush and began to make a fire.
After one was lit, I covered it with some larger leaves and began to make smoke signals. I'd learned this art from the resourceful Argonians during my expedition in Black Marsh. It worked like a charm. In no time, an East Empire Company vessel approached my position.
"Ahoy down there! Do you need a lift?" yelled an Imperial from deck.
"Do I ever!"
They brought me on deck, and led me down to the mess hall for some food. I ate it up graciously. After I was finished, I got up and was led to a small spare cabin. I thanked my saviors and closed the door behind me. A small window was pressed to the side of one wall. I peered out, and was grateful to see the familiar warm blue waters of the Abecean greeting me from the other side.
It had been quite the adventure. I regret that I wasn't able to make it to Theodor's island to hunt the weredaedroth, but I was glad I got a relaxing vacation all the same. When you're an explorer, after all, you must expect the unexpected!