Displaced Ones, The
The following excerpt is from a question-and-answer session hosted at the Explorers' and Excavators' Society of Andaen after a lecture given in the year 4133 CE. The guest was Saffiya an'Winari, a prestigious archaeologist and specialist in the history of the Crusade and the Reconquest. This is the attempt of a Society scribe present at the event to document the interactions in the reception hall as well as the content of the discussion itself. "...Ultimately, my advice is that, should your expedition in one of these ancient places be stalled in this manner, by wards utilizing an alien spellcraft the likes of which you have never encountered, you would do well to remember that some barriers are not meant to keep intruders out. They may, in fact, be meant to keep something in. Have I made myself clear, then?" A trace of a smile emerged on the guest speaker's lips as the reception hall fell into silence. Normally one who is giving a talk would welcome questions from their audience, but an'Winari was, if anything, trying to stymie curiosity about her subject. After several seconds, one of the attendees--a young man who spoke with the air of one who was raised chiefly by nannies and tutors--volunteered a question nonetheless. Or perhaps it was more of a comment. "With all due respect, are we not an explorers' society here? Is our aim not to overcome such obstacles in pursuit of..." The lecturer cut him off. The young man began to turn red as she did so; clearly, he wasn't used to being interrupted. "With every endeavor ought to come due caution and prudence, most of all when you encounter spellcraft beyond the scope of conventional magical practice." an'Winari paused, then continued with a sigh. "Still, I suppose it is futile to implore a club of--sorry, a Society of explorers--to steer clear of danger, isn't it?" Light laughter rippled through the hall at that, even though an'Winari had very nearly dismissed them as a club of hobbyists. She knew her audience. an'Winari then dropped her briefly jovial tone, speaking with a graveness that had the attendees straightening their backs and necks. "I suppose, then, I might as well warn you of the key signs to watch for should you choose to enter such a place." "The first and perhaps most obvious sign is the discovery of clearly anachronistic objects in one of these ruins. Being that these places are throughly, even redundantly, sealed off from the outside world, any artefacts, implements, or even rubbish that seem out of place within the confines of the ruin should immediately arouse your suspicion. And as explorers, archaeologists, and historians, you of all people ought to know what is and is not anachronistic. Of course, other explanations for anachronistic finds in an ancient ruin do exist." "A less obvious, yet far more serious and specific, sign is inconsistency in the state and maintenance of the place itself. Obviously, a long-uninhabited site should be covered in roughly equal measures of dust, cobwebs, and the like anywhere you go. But if certain rooms or surfaces are unusually clean or otherwise indicate recent activity by thinking beings, never mind the question of who or what would choose to live in such a place; ask yourself how. If you appear to be the first person who has broken the seals and opened the gates of such a place, whoever or whatever else is present there must have been residing there for years untold, before the seals were first set. Somehow, whatever dwells in there is still alive, too, or at least is still animated." The attendees nodded nearly in unison. A few of them shivered. an'Winari held their rapt attention. "The gravest sign of all, however, is hearing voices of any sort in these places. Any ghost stories you heard from locals can readily be discounted, undoubtedly. The reality is likely much worse." Her voiced was now closer to that of a captain preparing fresh conscripts for an upcoming skirmish. "Listen most of all for an incomprehensible, archaic-sounding language with many affricate sounds--tch, tsh--and 'vuh' instead of 'wuh' like in our tongues, and a consonant that sounds like a puff of air through one's lips--pfuh. You may hear many pairs of vowels together, too--au, ou, ay-eh..." A few audience members' faces were already wrinkling in confusion. One of them, yet another young man, shrugged. "Excuse the interruption, but what, pray tell, do the particulars of the language have to do with what we're encountering? And whose language are you talking about anyway?" an'Winari could hardly hide her disappointment, having expected better of an audience largely made up of children of fortune. "The relevance of those particulars is that such a language has not been spoken across Haifatnehti lands, nor in Saukkan Ghat, nor in the Tahwame Bounds far to the south, nor in Takhet--which you might remember is my homeland--for well over four centuries." A few attendees' eyes widened upon hearing this, but many others looked just as confused as ever, or even began to look bored. an'Winari gave a loud, actor-like stage-sigh. "I'll admit, not everyone has a sharp ear for foreign languages, although as explor--well, nevermind. If you take nothing else away from my talk today, remember this: In such ruins, you should be listening for strained, agitated voices. They may, at times, sound more like utterances of raw emotion than like any recognizable words. They may sound as if they have never had a drink of water or ale in their entire lives. But should you hear this speech at all, the only sound advice I can give is to abandon your expedition. Entirely. And if after one voice rises, many others join it, like a flock of birds alerted by one of its number, it is already too late for you to flee." Murmurs erupted throughout the room at this. One of the attendees then looked back up at an'Winari, her eyes full of fear and wonder. "Already too late? There isn't anything we can do...?" "Let's say your odds are... not favorable. Not one bit. The Displaced Ones... we know not from whence they came, nor what has brought them to dwell in such places, nor even who gave them that name in the first place, but when they sense the presence of human visitors, their purpose is clear: To rend flesh. To snap bones. To disassemble their visitors into their basest parts with a fury that neither human nor animal can muster. They seek their prey relentlessly, and once they catch sight of their mark, they pursue it--us--at a raging, hateful pace. Such is their lust for violence that no injury short of slaying them outright will give them pause. Break their legs and they will not stop their stride, but they will limp and crawl no more slowly than they once sprinted. Mangle their arms and they will lunge at you face-first, snapping at you with their jaws, something reeking of death, who knows what, between their teeth. Try to keep them at bay with spears, or with barricades and traps, and they will crawl over the corpses of their fallen kin to reach you, just as they would over rocks and rubble. They are quite plainly monsters, possibly the most dangerous ones you could encounter on any expedition. Predators of the woods can be dissuaded with fire, and the most brutish highwaymen may be open to bargaining. It is not so with the Displaced. They know neither reason, nor mercy, nor empathy. If indeed you are forced to fight them, do not hold back. You might as well kill them if you are able." One of the attendees began to clap, so roused he was by an'Winari's speech, before stopping awkwardly. The others barely even noticed, their imaginations so sparked with awe and horror. an'Winari decided that was a good enough place to wrap up the question-and-answer session, abruptly thanking everyone for their attention. After nearly half a minute of silence, the attendees began rising out of their chairs, but one of them quietly approached an'Winari for a final question. "Excuse me, but those, umm, 'monsters' you spoke of..." "Hmm?" an'Winari raised an eyebrow. "You said they speak a language, and it sounds like they even keep their own living spaces organized? And I've heard before that they look human, well, at least they have body plans like we do. However violent they may be, shouldn't they still be considered human? Should we, perhaps--" an'Winari's whole body visibly stiffened in response. Her breathing became rapid, almost frantic. She looked as if she couldn't speak. Until she did. "No." an'Winari's voice was uncharacteristically stern, and everyone in the hall turned as they heard her response. "I would not consider them human at all. Far from it. They may look deceptively human in form, and they may speak in some manner, but... no, no, no." an'Winari folded up her arms tightly and began to step back as she spoke, her mind clearly in another place now. Her voice was growing tense, almost shrill. "They are wicked, cruel, sadistic beyond measure. No person should sink to such depths and still be considered one of us. Perish the thought! Gods below, don't make me remember their depravity! And don't you dare ask me if they are human! Don't you even dare!" an'Winari looked as if she was either about to bolt out of the reception hall or assault the student who had approached her. Alanis, second to the Head of the Society's Andaen chapter, quickly intervened, thanking everyone for attending the lecture and gently ushering an'Winari out of the hall through a back door.
-----Special thanks to Twitch user Hammerknife for editorial feedback.
Unknown; possibly human
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I heard hammerknife read this on twitch and thought it was awesome! You did great with the characterization and I love the implications of an'Winari's little breakdown at the end. Great work!
Does this make me... Twitch famous? Totally kidding, but thank you!
Thanks again for letting me read your article on stream! I've finished my entire reading challenge article, so you can read all my comments, see the replay of the Twitch, and check out the other things I've done here. I appreciate you! <3
World Ember Reading Challenge 2022
Congrats on finishing the reading challenge! And it's an honor to be featured on your stream!