3.1 – Forewarning

To us, there was no forewarning. Or maybe there was, we just weren’t able to recognize it for what it was. First came a monster swarm. Every monster in the ocean for miles climbed up the beach and headed for higher ground. Watersfront was directly in their path. We fought them off. They weren’t concentrating on us. Most just passed on by. We heaved sighs of relief. Next, the air grew stifling. Nothing moved. It was deafeningly quiet. I noticed the ocean slowly receding, leaving foam in its wake. The horizon was hazy. By that time, it was too late. A wall of water had crept up behind that haze, towering above our heads, growing closer and closer, and then… it fell. 

–Jacob Fletcher, survivor of the Tragedy of Watersfront

 

Roaring. So much roaring. My head pounds. Everything feels distant.

“Haven. HAVEN!” Nattiq shakes me. I can’t feel it.

“No,” I whisper. “You’re wrong.”

“Haven! What’s wrong? Are you alright? What happened. Devin, please. Talk to me.” The roaring continues, drowning out his words.

“I’m not ready. Not ready. I’m not. It can’t be happening.” Nattiq shakes again. His worried face appears in front of me.

“I still have time. I don’t. I do. Please don’t come.” My vision fades in and out. My hands shake. No, its my whole body that’s shaking. A panicked light flickers from my core.

“But it is. Something’s coming. It’s there. It’s getting closer. Closer. Closer. No, don’t come.” My breath catches in my throat. No, that’s wrong. I’m breathing too fast. My mana is fluctuating out of control. The whole tree shakes with me, and sliver fish swim around me, agitated. Whatever’s out there, it’s chasing me. I could feel it. I ignored it. Nattiq brought it to light.

“I can’t. I can’t. I can’t.” It was one thing to have things suddenly attack me. It was a whole other thing, something on a completely differently level, to know something was slowly making its way towards me. Its aura…it was palpable. I could feel it even from this distance. The moment it stepped on the Rhew.

Cold. So cold. Colder than the ice around me. Bloodthirsty. Hungry. It wanted to eat. A horrible grin flashes through my mind. One that wanted to swallow me whole. I’m drowning in it. It moved too fast to see. It whispered horrors in my ear. It’s tongue slipped across my skin. Blood comes pouring out in its path. Unconsciously, I latch on to Nattiq’s sleeve with a death grip. (more…)

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2.10 – The Gwisin

There are three rules if you ever leave these walls. First: don’t leave the road. Second: Don’t leave the road. And the most important: Do Not. Leave. The Road. It won’t guarantee that you’ll stay safe–even the towns aren’t safe–but sticking to the roads means you’ll have a whole lot better chance at surviving, because in these parts, monsters are the least of your worries. It’s the puca you should be worried about. This whole area has been given to them. They’ve been using it since long ago, and those nations out there have let them have it to keep them under control. Those pricks are guarding the border to make sure we never leave, all because we live in the puca’s ancient breeding grounds.

— Tradesman to his apprentice

 

I was young. They told me to never leave the road. I left the road. There are worse things in the dark than monsters. So, much worse, and with their fingers stuck in your mouth, they force you to smile. When I was found and returned to my parents, they say I changed. I don’t remember what I was like before.

That was long ago, so long ago, I’m used to the break. The break in my mind that only widens as the rain pours gently down. My black clothes, ripped and covered in blood, is slowly soaked in the down pour. My black hair sticks to my face, long enough to brush my lip. I peek through it. The man lying here had followed me. He wanted to rob me. I laugh and the man, the dead man, lies there bleeding in the rain. I search his pockets. Find a pouch of money. I take his knife as well. Then, I eat.

Red, red meat. Blood dribbles down my chin. A dark taste, and it goes down hard, but I eat anyway. It’s the only thing I can. My eyes roll back as I swallow. A chill runs through me.

Then, I get it. So much red. (more…)

2.9 – Hanging Lanterns

Lanterns save lives. Your duty is to make sure they stay lit, you hear me? Out there, right outside those walls, monsters live, and like it or not, people get stuck outside at night more often than you’d think. That’s why we establish way points, safe houses where folks can stay and wait the night through. And a lantern marks Each. One. Of them. They’re what keep the monsters at bay. I’ll say it again. Your jobs are to make sure they stay lit. The wards you learn are precisely for that reason. So don’t be pansies. You walk out there an hour before sundown and you don’t come back until you know each lantern on that road is flickering, you hear?

— Frederik Long at the initiation of new Seven Cities Wardsmen

 

“Finally! For the first time in my life! I’m getting my own room! Woohooo!”

“What are you, a kid? You don’t have to get so excited.”

“What do you know? You’ve never had to live with seventeen people in a three-bedroom house before. Look at all this space you have!” Nattiq gestures at the expanse beneath my tree.

“S-seventeen?” I sputter. “You have that many people in your family?”

“Ah, no. I have more. That’s just Mom and Dad and the younger kids. My three older brothers and my older sister are married already, so they’ve moved out. You’ll make me a cool room, right?”

“Make it yourself. I’ve got other things to do right now.”

“But you said you’d make me one.”

“Alright, alright already. Give me some space. I’ll make it. But there’s something else I want to do first, so just sit there and watch quietly.” I take a deep breath and shake out my shoulders. I can’t believe how much better I feel now that I have a body. I feel so much more confident about everything. I grin.

“Here I go,” I say under my breath. I grab as much ice I can with manipulation and drag it along in a semi-circle. Soon, I have a deep, wide ditch almost completely circling the tree and a small mountain of ice piled up where the circle would connect. It slumps against the base of the tree. Hm. I strengthen and shape the ice and then hollow out the underside so the ditch runs underneath, then create a series of ice handrails on either side. A bridge, granted, a steep one, but aesthetically pleasing nonetheless.

I begin to shape the hole that marks the entrance to my underground caves, or rather the ice around it. The hole itself is still pretty enough, with the garlands of vine-shaped ice, but lets continue the vibe I’m creating. I raise pillars in a semi-circle around the hole and decorate them with carved hydrangea flowers. A sloping octagon for the roof, peaked at the center and flaring at each corner, carved tiles that look like scales and a statue of Timp decorating the peak. A pagoda. I hang Chinese lanterns on the underside of the roof and light them with |aura of light| and |aura of warmth|.

(more…)

2.8 – Crossroads

I came to a crossroads down in the desert, and I knew not which way to turn. The sun burned in the east, and the wind howled in the west. My way I could not discern. My lot I threw in with the stones, carved with ruins of old, though I knew many would curse me and accuse me of selling my soul. To the south, they pointed. Don’t follow the road. Make of it what you will. I’ve made my choice, carved out my own way, one that doesn’t follow the world.

— The Traveler’s Shadow, a bardic tale

I crack my knuckles ominously and grin at the sound. I tried to do it a few minutes ago, but it didn’t work. It was a humiliating sight for the next few minutes where I tried to figure out how to modify them so they’d pop properly, but I got it now and I’m raring to go.

I stare intensely at the face in front of me. It didn’t deserve to live in this world. It was an offense to the eyes. It needed to die, and I was the person to help it along.

“Well, then. How shall I go about killing you?” I say sweetly to that despicable face. “No need to worry. It won’t hurt a bit.” I plant my feet solidly and feet the momentum build as I begin to twist, building up from the legs into the waist, up through the spin and shoulders, down the length of my arm and out through my fist. A solid punch that would have broken even a stone, only I grimace and droop. I completely missed my target.

“Timp,” I say, looking down at the little owl cat. “Maybe I’m just not cut out for this anymore. I only remember bits and pieces. I thought I could fight, but it looks like I can’t.” I crouch down and snuggle the feline bird in my arms.

“Chirrririp,” Timp cries in protest, struggling to get out from my grasp.

“Why did the system name you Timp anyway? Why didn’t I get to name you? Hey stop that, haha.” Timp pushes against my cheek with a paw.

“Chichichichirip!” She calls.

“Cheer up, huh. You’re right!” I drop the owl cat and clench my fist in a victory pose. “I can’t give up now! I need to relearn how to fight again! That punch felt pretty good; I just need to connect it. Let’s try it again.”

(more…)

2.7 – Step One: Create a Golem

Let me tell you kids, your dad is strong. Super strong. Nothing can beat him. Even dragons go down with a single slice of my sword. There was only one time in his life that your dad has ever had trouble, and that was when he went against the dreaded, fifty foot tall diamond iron golem. It was a fight, and I almost lost, but your dad hacked and slashed with all his might, magnificently dodging each of its striking fists that were bigger than the biggest Gowrow by only a hair. After days of fighting each other to nearly a draw, I finally got behind its massive beast of a head and chopped it right off. If I hadn’t, I’m sure that its next strike woulda killed me right then and there. And that’s the only reason I’m alive to tell the tale.

– Calib Sorenson’s bedtime story

 

Alright, time to slap my cheeks. I can do this. So what, the world is against me. That’s nothing new. It’s been like this the moment I first woke up. All that’s been added to that list is the big chance that people I know will turn against me at any given moment. Honestly, if I’m expecting it, it’s not that hard to handle. I just won’t give them the chance to cause any lasting damage with it. And judging by Nattiq’s attitude when he snapped out of it, he felt guilty. With that puppy face, I can’t really blame him for what happened. Next time it happens, though, I’m going to punch him in the face. I’ll deal with that later though, the problem of why he was possessed. I think I have an idea, but… No, let’s not deal with that right now.

Thank heavens that Oroesi is doing okay now. For a minute it was touch and go. I don’t think he would have survived if he didn’t have [thick skin]. For now, his bleeding has stopped and his wound is looking much better. I think a lot of luck comes from it being a clean slice.

I really wish he hadn’t protected me, but with out that, I think I would have died. This won’t do. I’m simply too unprotected in this state. Heck, anyone could waltz up and poke me, and I’ll shatter to pieces. Let’s fix that then. I reach out and grab some ice and knead it around with imaginary fingers.

(more…)

2.6 – The Legends of the Hynafol

What happened to the Hynafol?
Why, they disappeared.
Why did the Hynafol go?
They had something they feared.
What scared the Hynafol?
The eyes up in the sky.
What did it do to the Hynafol?
It made everyone die.

– Song the Gorsydd Ruins morgen sings

“How’s Ah’m?”

“He should be fine in a few days or so. He’s got a quick health regeneration rate. It’s the only reason he’s been alive as long as he has. Normally he’d be up and about in a few hours, but he got hit pretty bad, stabbed right through the stomach.”

“Oh. Where’s he now?”

“I put him in the room we came in, the one kinda like up here with all the pillows. Looked the comfiest.”

“Will he be safe there?”

“Should be fine for now. Nothing really lives down there. Not for miles, anyway. You were just unlucky with the naitaka. What are you going to do with him?” Nattiq nods towards Oroesi.

“Ah, he’s a guardian now, I guess. That reminds me.” I pull the owl cat from my space and put it on a pillow. “I have another.”

“Woah, is that an owl cat? How’s you do that? It popped out of nowhere.”

“You could call it sleight of hand.” I grin. Oroesi takes one look at the griffin and bares his teeth.

“Girl or boy?”

“Timp’s a girl. I also have these.” I pull out the pigmy bunnies as well.

“No really. How are you doing that? You can’t call it sleight of hand. You don’t have any hands.”

“Just something I can do, I guess. Ah, Oroesi, don’t eat the poor bunny! I only have two. At least wait until they mate or something.” I quickly make a new room below this treetop patio and pull the bunnies into it so that they’re out of Oroesi’s reach. It’s a good thing I did, ’cause Timp also looked ready to pounce. I call up some sliver fish with a pot of soil and carpet the bunnies’ floor.

“I think I’ll have to do some redecorating. My room arrangement is not the most logical at the moment,” I say, mentally dusting off my hands and settling into the pillows. I watch as Timp takes a swipe at Oroesi.

“You can move your rooms around?”

(more…)

2.5 – Falling to Pieces

“Stop them! Don’t let them into the camp. Frick, there’s not even that many of them. We’re being over run. Argh! Ug. Stop Ret, go help Sam. I’m alright. It just grazed me. Go, go, he’s being swarmed. I can handle it here. RAAAAAAAH. Die you stupid things! This is why I told that ridiculous official Bakers that an outpost can’t be set up in the Rhew, no matter how rare amber gold is. It’s! Just! Not worth it! Noooo! Dang it, Hubert! Kale, Hubert’s down! He went under! That wretched monster cracked a hole in the ice and he fell in. What? No way. He’s dead Kale. You can’t get him. He’ll have frozen to death in seconds. Stay here and guard Lilith! We need her alive! She’s the only thing keeping the freaking eira at bay! So stay at your post!”

– Georgian Millt, failed Rhew expedition

 

So, Little one wants me to fight?

“That’d be helpful, yes. I’ll help, but I don’t really have the means to fight off that many at the moment…”

“I’ll help too. I’ve got nothing better to do, and this looks like it’d be fun!” Nattiq grins. “Ah’m, give me a ride, will ya?” He launches himself onto the whale dog’s back and pulls out two short, slim swords from… somewhere. One moment he had nothing in his hands, and the next, with a slight twist or something, he was spinning the short swords in his hands.

“How…?”

“Oh, you mean these? I’m not a mage or anything, just quick with my hands is all.” He gives a wink.

Idiot ’tis wanting to look impressive for Little one. Ah’m blows out a puff of air in exasperation.

“I am not trying to show off. You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

I know. I ’tis many cycles older. He puffs himself up.

“Yeah, and who here has messed up? You, you stupid whale dog.”

I kill more.

“Yeah? You think? Wanna try that out? There’s a whole army waiting outside for us to test that on.”

I ready for challenge. ‘Tis idiot?

“You bet your gills on it.”

I ’tis not have gills, though.

“You’ll wish you did though, ’cause soon you’ll be too scared to come up for air,” Nattiq says smugly.  (more…)

2.4 – Safe Harbor

It’s a goal in my life to travel to all the wonders of the known world. Each one offers something unique, and I plan on experiencing all seventeen. From the floating isles of Hardiff, to the hanging temple of Jo Goth–and those in between: Platimenia, the city at the edge of the world; the giant Edith Statues that dominates the Milana Mountains; and the Carepen Gates, the massive structure that spans a continent. I’ve been to the Tolk Mushroom forest, to the unusually sized shells at Seashell Cove, and to the Balancing Pillars at Fare Caolan, but there are so many others I long to see, and new wonders I long to discover.

– Iolian Yosef, Wanderer

 

I’m miffed. The sun’s going to come up in a couple of minutes or so, and my stupid guests aren’t going to be up to see my magic show it looks. I use my perception to wander around my domain a few minutes more, occasionally having Niko nudge them to see if they’ll wake, then reluctantly give up. How someone can sleep so long, I’ll never know.

I glance at them once more, then gather all the ice around my core. I want to see everything with my own eyes. I take a deep breath, and then I surge. Like a tidal wave, a geyser even, I burst out of the ground surrounded by ice. The sun peeks out from the horizon at that moment, reflecting off the prisms in the ice. Everything sparkles, and it hits me harder than the magical underwater world. An overwhelming feeling of nostalgia assails me.

I’ve lost something. I stare at the sun, slowly growing higher using my ice, the massive pillar already dozens of feet above the ground. The hole in my heart only grows wider as I realize for the first time, I don’t belong here. This was never my world. I look up at the stars that are beginning to fade with the sunrise, searching desperately for home. Which star was mine. Where did I live? What was my life like before I was stolen away? Was there anyone there that longs for me? Do they long for me like I long for them? Is it possible to miss something you don’t even remember?

There’s nothing here to answer my questions except the sun glinting off the ice for miles and miles. I am an alien to this world. My home, far away and out of reach. The sun flares even brighter and the feeling I had down in that underwater world returns in force, the sadness banished from my mind. I will rise like this sun, shine over everything on this planet, and make a world like it has never seen before. If I can’t go back to a home I can’t remember, I’ll just make my own and thrive like no one’s ever seen before.

For an instant, I see it. My domain spreading for miles and miles on this unforgiving terrain, budding with life and people. I grin, my ice pillar reaching 300 feet into the air. I pause for a second, gathering more ice around me in a bulb on top of the pillar. Movement on the ground catches my attention. Ah’m and Nattiq are up and outside my caves below, standing on the open ice and staring at my pillar rising in the sky. I smile again.

Here goes to the first step. I take another breath and then burst outward. Huge offshoots of ice strain out from the enormous bulb of ice atop the pillar. I branch them. I branch them again and again and again, over and over, intertwining them in a similar way to my roots down below. I branch them until they become so thin, they turn into |ice silk| drifting in the wind, so long that when they float down from their sudden growth, they brush the ground. I pull at some of the little beads quickly forming on the |ice silk|, shaping them into long thin leaves thickly decorating my swaying branches, then make everything glow with |aura of light|.

I pause cover the whole construction with my influence and then to take a look at my handiwork. A slight breeze causes my branches to sway and rustle, drifting to and fro like those underwater jellyfish. It’s calming. I can almost smell the green. It smelled of life. Ah, |aura of souls|.

It felt like a breath, |aura of souls|. I gathered the aura together, tightly winding it and compressing it, filling it with thoughts of life and growing, thoughts of a teeming forest, damp and fresh after the rain, and when I was ready, I released it like a breath into my massive ice tree. And the tree breathed it in. It rustled and moved and came alive. It was a simple life, even more so than a true plant, but it was alive nonetheless. (more…)

Torrents

Torrents.
It pours.
The sound thunders, muted in its steadiness.
The scents waft upon a slight breeze–
green, growing, damp, then drenched.

The world ceases to exist for a moment.
Then, the rain passes.
The heavy downpour is gone.
The buckets that once were fade away,
and a light drizzle replaces it.

The sun shines in the shower.
The thundering silence of the blanketing squall a memory,
but the smell of it remains.
A reminder of the brief, fleeting
torrent.

2.3 – Under the Banyan

Oh, the Aoyin sits under the old Banyan tree
Eating all the turtle-cattle he can see.
Shake, turtle-cattle, shake.
Flee from the four-horned beast.

– Hiisi Nursery Rhyme

 

When one wants to go up, one must first go down. Why? Stability! And, well, resources too, but mainly stability at the moment. I hesitate, staring anxiously at my obnoxious, unwanted hole. For a second I wonder if I really want to do this. If I do, there is an enormous possibility that I will have just landed myself in another whole heap of trouble, but if I don’t, I feel like I’ll stagnate and die whenever the next wave of whatever comes. Most likely eiras at the moment. Then again, they’ll swarm anyway if I do this.

Think positive. Be proactive. I’ve been just riding the flow, and that needs to change if I want to survive in this world. So, time to face my fears. Ice powers, activate!

I reach out and tug at the ice around the hole, pulling it down and at the same time widening the hole. I grit my teeth in my head as I do. There’s a war of instincts raging in my head, the desire for growth versus the absolute loathing to expand this cursed hole. But I keep going, pulling the ice down and down and down, picking up more and more ice as I go, and packing the sides of the hole so they’re thick, hard, and stable. It’s a long way down, but not nearly as long as I had hoped. Looks like my buffer between me and the sea below wasn’t as thick as I once thought. Soon enough, my influence has flooded the whole expanse of the hole and I’m through to the waters below.

Hesitantly, I look around with whatever sense I use to view my domain remotely. I hadn’t ever taken notice of it before, but that sense was quite a bit different from the one I used to view the immediate surroundings around my core. It was like my remote viewing was in black and white without any sound, or maybe more like if you could somehow see what the feeling of something walking across your skin looked like. It was strange, not at all like the bright colors and normal vision I used to see my immediate surroundings.

Underneath the ice was even stranger. I could feel the lighting was blue tinged with green even if I couldn’t exactly see it. And it was cold. So, very cold. But not desolate like one would think. It was thriving. I could feel the life pulsing through the water even though there was nothing living in my direct vicinity except strange clear anemones grasping the underside of the ice.

(more…)