The Legend of Alm series is undergoing a definitive rewrite. The following was cut from The Books of Knowledge.
The following morning, Slate was up before the pirates, and already halfway down the crumbling footpath from camp to the beach, when the purple sky began to spray a light mist on the island.
Upon reaching the beach, Slate stowed his pack beneath a frond, and found the trail he was looking for. It led him to the muddy scrap of land where the pirates held their sick games. Just behind it, much larger to Slate now than it had been in his memory, were the rusty iron and wooden cages that held the poor contestants.
The first cage Slate came to was occupied by a walecat. The creature looked barely alive. Its left eye was missing, the socket scarred over, and its fur was mottled and clumped with dried blood and mud. Slate reached a hand into the cage to try to get the walecat’s attention, but the animal could barely lift a paw from the rain puddle it sat in. Slate did manage to attract the attention of a woodbear, across the walk that ran between the two rows of cages. The woodbear roared something terrible, not so much in anger but as a statement of indignation. It charged at the front of its cage, slamming against the bars violently, only to get up and do it over and again.
Slate passed on to the next cage. Therein, he was amazed to see a giant form like the behemoth he had met on Dragon Island. The creature obviously required greater restraint than the others did; its cage was reinforced three times over with cross-beams and chains. The huge thing sat mostly still, its great sides flexing as it took shallow breaths of the foggy morning air.
Slate put his hands on the bars of the dragon’s cage to get its attention. The beast only turned its neck the slightest bit, to align its still-sparkling gaze with Slate’s. Slate could have sworn that he saw the dragon recognize him. And then, with a look of shame and sadness, the beast closed its eyes.
The cages all had locks. After an unsuccessful search for keys in a hut at the end of the row of animal cages, Slate went to inspect one of the locks further, and realized that they were simply latched from the inside. In fact, none of the locks were activated.
As Slate was testing one of the cage’s latches to see how it opened, a clovoxen inside jumped up, and crashed into the almost-open door. The jolt threw Slate back into the mud, and the latch slammed back down. And then the clovoxen charged again.
Slate was forced to think: he couldn’t just set the delirious animals free, as they might trample or kill him unintentionally. Or maybe intentionally. He didn’t see why they should have anything but contempt for human beings. Searching around for some idea of what to do, Slate looked up to see that the tops of the cages had slats he could probably walk on. From there, he reasoned, he would be able to loose the animals without endangering himself.
He climbed a tree growing next to one of the cages, jumped onto the closest one, and then lay down on his stomach and undid the door latch. The cage swung open, and a sickly-looking raelwulf with his tail between his legs slipped out and disappeared silently into the jungle.
The next cage contained a dalcrag, a hairy creature with a great hard plate for a forehead that was circling its cage in a rut it had worn into the mud. The dalcrag ran at the door of its cage once Slate opened it, knocking it clear off its hinges. The animal then began a wild charge, all about the arena and the holding area. It smacked its head into the other cages and tore down the hut at the end of the pathway, before hurtling into the jungle brush after the raelwulf.
Slate released a jix next, which tore after the dalcrag like lightning. The dragon was next, though when Slate opened its gate it didn’t move. It lifted its head, however, and Slate could have sworn he saw a smile curl up on its scaly lips.
Then there was the poor walecat, that couldn’t even bring itself to stand when offered freedom. Slate swung down from atop its cage and tried to urge the walecat out, but soon realized that it was probably too late. He wished he had some way of putting the creature out of its misery, or that one of the hungry other creatures would make a noble end of its life and eat it.
As Slate was looking for a way atop the second row of cages, the dalcrag he had freed reappeared in a charge straight towards him, pursued by the jix. The dalcrag came so quickly that Slate wasn’t able to move out of the way, and the creature collided with him, hard. The blow was so intense that Slate was lifted clear up off the ground and thrown a good ten feet. The dalcrag escaped, honking, as the jix set Slate as its new target. The animal coiled its massive back legs, growled, and flashed its fangs. Slate’s heart began to beat so hard that he could hear it. In those few milliseconds that felt like an eternity he sat petrified, watching the jix, a creature five times the size of a raelwulf, float through the air towards him. And then before Slate had even begun to think of how to save himself, he saw the open jaws of the dragon appear and snap down on the jix’s neck. The jix howled and landed some twenty feet away, thrown by the dragon like paper.
Slate scrambled up, his back aching from the dalcrag blow. With absolutely no idea as to how he might get on top of the second row of cages, he could only swallow hard and run the entire length of the holding area, screaming to drown out his fear, and throwing open the latches as he went. A menagerie of animals, in all states of health and anger, sprang from their captivity, some to briefly quarrel with one another, most to disappear out through the jungle onto the beach.
When Slate had managed to regain his breath, he headed down the path towards the beach himself. There he saw the wild creatures running rampant. Some of them were washing their wounds in the salt water, others were just raging without direction, stretching their sore legs in the morning sunlight.
And others still were setting on their sleepy captors. Slate watched a walecat overtake one of the hapless pirates, pushing him down to the ground with its massive paws and then making ground meat out of his back. A dalcrag was following after another of the pirates, looking like he was enjoying the play, knocking his prey back down every time he got up. Two more men briefly succeeded in netting a jix, though they were soon laid to waste by a hoybrin’s talons.
More and more of the pirates flooded the beach and the scene grew increasingly gruesome. Amidst the confusion, Slate espied who could only have been Hatty, charging right through the carnage and diving into the water. He was headed for the sloop. To Slate’s surprise, it looked as if he might actually uphold his end of the plan.
When the dragon made its appearance on the beach, its rainbow scales sparkled radiantly in the rising sun. It charged about, rising up on its hind legs and smashing groups of pirates as it fell. When it swung its barbed tail, pirates were sent flying. Slate felt a tinge of guilt watching the rogues meet their ends, but it wasn’t enough to interfere with his enjoyment.
Some of the quicker-thinking pirates took to the salty water of the bay to escape the frenzy. A few even thought to head for the ship that Hatty had reached and begun to ready. Slate watched as a well-placed kick from Hatty dislocated one of the pirates trying to scale the side of the loop. He couldn’t possibly hold off all the men by himself, so when Slate saw the mast fall, he knew he had to move quickly.
He found his pack where he had stowed it, threw it over his shoulder, and ran full-speed across the beach, dodging a charging ginkoiz as he went. He dove outstretched into the water when he came to it, then swam furiously, managing to reach the ship without losing his pack. Hatty helped pull him aboard, and then it was left to Slate to throw off the pirates trying to board the sloop while Hatty finished preparations. Slate grabbed a plank and swung at the heads of the men attempting to board. The stream of refugees from the animal rampage looked as if it were poised to become unmanageable when Hatty finally announced the sloop was ready.
He loosed the sails and the ship spun around in the wind, to face the end of the bay and the open ocean. Slate continued to knock desperate pirates from the side of the ship as it began to move out of the bay. He laughed with the animals still wreaking havoc on shore, bid the filthy pirates good riddance, and nodded a farewell to Mother and Father Peaks, as the ship passed from the bay into the rougher swells of the open sea.