Staff Journal Entry
I’m recording this because no one’s gonna believe me. Once the official/scientific paperwork gets filed, it’ll all be technical and refined for the medical and zoologist journals. But I swear on the grave of my Aunt Karynn, mainly ‘cause we didn’t get along so good, that our lives were saved today…by a butterfly.
Hear me out.
The floor-run mission was on schedule — our job was to locate and secure a particular mushroom. Not even gonna try to remember the name, that ain’t my department. I’ll call it ‘the ugly-gray thing with glowing purple spots on it’. Members of the party included myself, Charleston, and Benny on technical, with science officers Cory, Bentley, and Corbin on collection.
Gear was checked, and double-checked. The moment the return timer was hit, we jumped — hitting the floor in a record time of 10 minutes, 21 seconds. Cory screamed all the way down, but that’s why mute switches are installed into helmets. We dropped through the mist like a loogie spit off a second story balcony.
Finley’s gonna cringe if he sees this, but I think we were dropped to the 6th level of the chasm. It’s the one with all the plants and flowers and ‘oh, lookie what I found – put it in a bottle, so I can poke it and give it a stupid technical name no one can pronounce’ area. It looks all peaceful and quiet, at least compared to most of this godforsaken place, but we knew better.
The science nerds didn’t waste time in their hunting. One tech for one nerd, that’s how we roll. Cory knew I had her back, Charleston followed after Corbin, and Benny wandered off with Bentley. Priority for all techs is the sky. Everything else is secondary.
It couldn’t have been more than four minutes before they came into view. Circular movements just above the mist. At least half a dozen serpents prowling in formation. Before I could react, my helmet warning signal went off.
“MOVE, MOVE, MOVE,” shouted Benny. “We’ve got company, Cap. Two Horntales.”
“Everyone to the landing cables” I shouted back, Corbin already in view, Charleston on his heels. “Staff behind me, NOW.”
Moving the science crew between myself and the cliff wall, Charleston covered three o’clock, guns at the ready. All eyes were up, waiting for the rain of wings and talons.
“Here, Cap. Nine o’clock.” He was panting, running to us. “I can’t find Bent…”
A high-pitched screech echoed from every surface around us, vibrating the very suits we wore to protect us from an environment meant to kill us. That’s all I could honestly think of at that moment. We weren’t supposed to be down here. Our jobs were to ignore nature, give it a middle finger at times, and walk about as we pleased. That screech was a reminder that sometimes nature gives us the middle finger instead. I’d become familiar with that sound.
Before a winged beast struck a friend, knocking them to the ground, and tearing them apart.
Just then, Bentley jogged through the mist. You could see the smile on his face, even from here. Gloved hand held high, the ugly fungi grasped between his chubby fingers. “Found it!” he laughed, “I won the bet.” His steps slowed as he approached, and I imagined what it looked like from his point of view — all of us huddled together. Seeing us waving our arms, our mouths forming silent shouts…all because he forgot to take his speakers off mute.
If you’ve never seen one, a Horntale averages one thousand pounds of lean muscle. Next to a sixty pound gnome soaking wet, it looks like a giant demon from the underworld. Their scales and skin are a milky yellow, making it hard to see through the natural mist found in most of the chasm. Its wingspan is over twenty feet, and when it attacks, they make the initial impact with powerful back limbs, equipped with razor sharp spears for talons.
Bentley would never have seen it coming, but the boy turned just in time to see his fate.
I just…couldn’t look.
My body cringed as the scream forced its way into my helmet. Absent-mindedly, my hand reached out to find Cory’s arm, who was shaking through her own tears. I shielded her body with my own.
Bentley was her son.
Dust, gravel, disheveled plants and spores exploded in a whirlwind of fury as the Horntale ravaged our gnome friend. When the movement stopped, we had moments to connect our cables and launch ourselves back to the station. I was determined to make sure my crew had the time they needed.
“Tech on team,” I yelled, “reconnect and launch on my signal, emergency protocol, I’ll buy you the time!” Pulling the two whisper blades from my hip-sheaths, I sprinted towards the Horntale and lunged.
Both blades sank to the hilt.
“Well that’s…gross,” Bentley mumbled. He shuffled over in his awkward fashion, avoiding the Horntale’s wing, then squatted to observe. “Oh. Are you trying to win a bet also?”
“Bentley,” screamed his mother, Cory flipping the boy about and wrapping her arms around him so hard I thought she’d crush his helmet. “You’re alive!”
“Almost wasn’t with this big thing flying at me, that’s for sure.”
“About that,” I grunted, kneeling up and pulling my knives free. “How in TGII did you kill this thing?” And that’s when I finally noticed them.
Butterflies. Everywhere. I know that sounds nuts, being in the belly of dragon central, but they were literally everywhere. Nesting on rocks, hanging on vines, stretching their majestic wings in the small openings of caves and nooks of trees. Massive black and deep purple butterflies with wings spans eventually measured at 11-12” wide. While we were talking, one of them rested on Bentley’s helmet, scratching at a small pink light retrofitted at his mothers request, so she could keep track of him. Damn thing attracted the butterflies, which turned out to be insanely poisonous to the serpents of the chasm.
Finley calls them Brimstone Skippers.
He wasn’t the one who discovered them, but he’s the boss.
I prefer to call them Bob.
Then I can say “Bob saved my life.”
~ Captain Ainsely Bareroot