Saturday, August 2, 2014

Tharia: Aleah & Shaw's Story, Part 6

"You will know when its purpose is fulfilled, its destiny reached."

She walked to him, taking his outstretched hand. It was warm and black as midnight. He smiled. He had teeth like a cat.

      “Where are we going?” she asked him.
      “Here,” he said.
      She looked at him oddly, not comprehending. “But you said,—” she began, and the rest of her words dissipated like breath in chill air, unspoken. She looked around her. There was nothing. Nothing for miles and miles and miles. They were standing in a field, flat as a table but for the low grass.
      The Ferali gazed at her for a time, and she gazed back. He was tall, dressed in black clothing that seemed to flow about him. He wore a headpiece of wrapped cloth, an attached veil hanging loose from its right side. She caught herself gazing into his eyes. Green, like her own, but glowing softly like a firefly’s. He smiled, and she shook her head as if waking from a reverie and looked down. On his feet, she saw, he wore pointed black shoes. “I’m sorry. I just—”
      “It’s all right, Aleah,” he said—his voice warm and resonant, almost musical, neither low nor high in pitch—and his smile widened, “but you are here for a reason, and we need to attend to it now.”
      “All right,” she said, feeling suddenly very young.
      “Look over there in the sky.” He extended a long arm and pointed to a patch of midnight blue sky, spangled and dusted and peppered with stars. Instinctively, she looked for a moment across the vastness of the firmament. Runner Moon was no longer visible. Could it have set already? It was no slow traveler, but it was not yet done with its journey when she laid eyes on the cat outside her window. “Look,” he said, a hint of emphasis in his voice, and she did.
      For a moment she saw nothing, but soon enough she saw a movement. A point of light, drifting. A star, she thought, was moving through the firmament among the other stars. Then she saw that this was not so. It was coming closer, closer and closer to Tharia. It was like a comet! It moved along a huge arc through the sky, and behind it she could just begin to make out a faint blue tail of light, oddly segmented. The segments of light moved like the marching legs of a millipede. She stared in fascination. The comet was not a comet. As it drew closer she saw that it had lights that moved around it in patterns. It appeared to grow bigger and bigger, and its blue tail shortened and became paler. Then suddenly—it plunged toward the ground. There was a flash, and Aleah threw her arm across her eyes. Then all went dark.
      She closed her mouth, which had dropped open in surprise, as if ready to cry out. The Ferali was looking at her again. “Watch, now,” he said. “There, in the distance. See.”
      She looked. There was a space now where the ground was heaved up in a circle like a ring of low mountains, and in the middle of the circle was a dome of rock rising above them—or what looked like rock, anyway, but smooth and windowed with a thousand windows. She narrowed her eyes, and then she realized that there were birds flying from its windows here and there. Many birds. Countless numbers of them. Like starlings, they were, only they were the size of people! Flocks of them flying off in many directions at great speed, turning together as one in elaborate patterns, and then returning. The sky flickered with the brightest violet lightning, and all the birds were gone again. She saw that the dome was now coming apart, disintegrating as she watched, caving into itself and disappearing bit by bit. Days and nights were passing as it disappeared. Still Moon moved faster than Runner Moon. Runner Moon became a solid streak of light across the sky that drifted to and fro across the heavens as Still Moon blurred with motion. A forest grew up around them, hiding the place where the giant comet-that-was-not-a-comet had fallen and come to rest.
      “What am I seeing?” she asked, her voice sounding far away to her own ears.
      “History,” he said. “It is important to you to know it, though no one in your life so far will have any knowledge of it.” He turned her to look at him, his hands on her shoulders. “You must choose carefully with whom you will share this knowledge, Aleah. Be sure of anyone before you utter a word of it.”
      “Why are you telling me all this? Why are you showing me this? Why did you come to me? Why does it feel like I always expected something like this to happen?” She felt overwhelmed, even upset. Emotions welled up inside of her, unbidden. “I don’t understand any of this!”
      He did not dismiss her or seek to quiet her. He nodded, said, “I am telling you because you should know. I am showing you because you will remember. I could not tell you if I did not come to you. I cannot answer your final question, because that answer is yours alone. When you have it, you will understand.”
      She felt overwhelmed. It seemed so simple, yet some part of her wondered now what it was she’d chosen to do in the middle of the night. Why was she here? She struggled to take it all in, and instead she found herself already retreating from what she’d seen. She wanted to go home, and this left her feeling foolish and immature. She didn’t really want to go home. She took a deep breath and brought her focus back to the moment. “This is crazy,” she said.
      He stepped back from her and tilted his head a little, then smiled. “Yes. Crazy,” he said. “But less crazy than so much else, you’ll find.”
      She smiled back at him, then lowered her head in contemplation of this strange turn of fate.
      After a moment, he spoke to her. “Take this, Aleah. It is the gift of E’nelKo. That is me, my name. This is my gift to you.”
      She looked up and into his eyes, then at his outstretched hand, which held within its open palm a strange, glowing pendant on a platinum chain. Bravely, she took it, and for a heartbeat she felt her eyes warm within her head, saw their glow upon his skin. “Oh,” was all she could say.

      She woke as if from a dream, still dressed and back in her bed. For all she had seen the night before, even more had entered her mind as she slept. She looked around her room. Everything looked the same, yet everything was different. She rose and opened the simple little wooden box in which she kept her most special treasures: sea shells, sand dollars, dried flowers, glass beads, and now, she saw, the pendant on its chain. She was almost surprised that she was not surprised, yet she felt now like nothing would ever surprise her again. She gazed at the pendant and saw deep within it a faint light. She heard E’nelKo’s voice in her head: “You will know when its purpose is fulfilled, its destiny reached.”
      She took the pendant and hung it about her neck. It softly glowed, then faded. As the morning light grew in her room, so did a new sense. She needed today to go to the District of Secrets, though not to visit her brother (who had been gone some while at the tower this time). Instead, she would go to the Flowers Gate, and thence to the quiet and welcoming glade of the goddess, Kairdwenne, Mother of Cauldrons, Healer of All Wounds. She felt the calling clearly now, as one feels and recognizes sunlight on skin even with eyes closed. She wondered if that’s how it had felt to Shaw. Then a question occurred to her. Had he also been visited? Had he gone to see something in the middle of some night? And then she knew with an uncanny certainty that he hadn’t. For some reason that felt sad to her. Sure, they did not share everything, yet this was significant, truly. Something she wished they might share. But they didn’t. Couldn’t.

      Aleah’s mother looked at her and smiled as a tear slid down her cheek. “It’s all right, Mom,” she said, “I’ll not be long gone, and I’ll visit more than Shaw, I bet!” That made her mother laugh softly. They stood together at the tall gateway in the shadow of the tower. Beyond it tall trees reached upward nearly a hundred feet, and birdsong seemed to garland the air itself, beautiful and intricate. A breath of fragrant air washed over them and a bell softly chimed in the distance, from somewhere within Kairdwenne’s glade. “I need to go, now,” she said.
      “I know, Aleah. Go. I’ll be no farther than home.”
      Her lower lip trembled, her vision blurred, and she threw her arms around her mother’s neck and kissed her cheek. “I’ll be home soon. I promise. I love you.”
      “I love you, daughter. Be well. Learn. Grow. I’m so proud of you.” She put her hands on Aleah’s arms and stepped back from her. “Look at you! You’re growing up before my eyes. It’s as if you were a child only yesterday.”

      She walked along the wide path and into the woods. Soon enough it turned and she lost sight of the gate. She could feel her mother walking home, and some part of her ached crazily, as if desperate to follow her there. Beyond it, though, was the feeling that pulled her on. She felt the pendant under her blouse. Destiny or the path of her choosing? They felt like one and the same to her as she walked.
      “Welcome,” a voice said. She looked up and saw a woman standing before her, dressed in a wrap all in hues of yellow that seemed as varied as sunlight itself. To her amazement, Aleah realized that this was no ordinary woman. She was a Shalaumair! A Green elf! “You are…?”
      “Aleah. An aspirant, Priestess,” Aleah answered.
      “Well then, Aleah,” she said and bowed, one hand extended and the other brushing toward herself. “Come. The Lady gathers all. My name is Ji-Swu, from Krîsh, which is in Sabon. Do you know of it?”
      “I… I don’t,” she said. Ji-Swu smiled enigmatically, turned, and beckoned Aleah to follow her.
      “You shall learn of it,” she said as they walked. “Much of our healing art comes from there, and its knowledge contains history. Kairdwenne’s cauldron is the world. It is a very big cauldron, and its contents are made from many ingredients.”
      Aleah nodded.
      Ji-Swu looked at her appraisingly. “Should you decide to stay on, you shall be under my tutelage. This means that you shall serve as my handmaiden for a time. Do you accept such an idea?”
      Aleah did not know what to think. “I will serve you?”
      “You shall serve Kairdwenne only. Your efforts in life are prayers to Kairdwenne. Your sense of purpose is a meditation on impermanence. Your education is a communion with Kairdwenne. Your own healing is silent contemplation, while the healing you do for others is the joyful expression of gratefulness.”
      They continued on for awhile in silence. Finally, Aleah said, “I will serve.”
      “Good. Then you shall heal.”

      One week later, Aleah sat on a cushion in a small conical tent, a fire burning in a ring of stones in the center, smoke rising up and through the hole in the ceiling. She gazed into the flames and breathed slowly and steadily, each breath measured and consciously registered. Across from her, on the other side of the fire, she imagined seeing herself watching her imagine herself. She watched herself rise and move to the fire. She looked into her own eyes and extended her hand, cautiously yet defiantly. In her mind, somewhere far away, some part of her cried out, “No! Stop!” She did not. She put her hand in the fire. The pain blossomed in dreadful red flowers of barbed electricity, and she wanted to cry out for what she had watched happen. Her pain was her pain. The burning was her burning. Only, this was not true, she realized. She looked at her hand. The smoke that rose up from it was sickly sweet smelling. The sight of her hand was harrowing. Yet, in actuality, she felt nothing but the love of healing flowing through her. She saw herself stand and raise her burned hand to the light falling through the hole and the smoke. Green tendrils of light grew up around her like vines as orchids of grace bloomed from them and then fell away. Her hand glowed like Still Moon at full light, first green, then blue, then a pearlescent silver. She gazed at her own hand. No trace of the fire’s damage remained.

      In Krîsh, there was a sage who sought to obtain the favor of a fire god, with whom he had fallen in love. The sage gave countless burned offerings to this god, but the god did not notice the sage’s efforts. The god, who was named Arku, was very lonely, but he spent all his time in volcanos, dreaming of the sun, for he was bound to Tharia by the force of his desire to live and consume, and the sun was an immeasurable distance away. His desire was so great, that he overlooked the insignificant offerings of mortals, instead devoting himself exclusively to the sun. “Come, o you great eternal sun, and consume my burning heart with abandon! Let me burn within you forever!” Such was the passionate prayer of this god to the sun. Blind to all but the sun, he did not notice any of the offerings of the heartsick sage.
      One day the sage, despairing of love’s cruelty, had a sudden insight. What if the gift was not a burned offering, but an offering that could never be burnt? It just so happened that a visitor to Krîsh knew of just the right thing. On hearing the sage despair of finding such a gift, the visitor said, “I beg your pardon, but I know the gift you seek!”
      Thus it was that the sage was soon climbing down into a great volcanic vent, there to find and pick the legendary Blossom of Melted Fire. A gift so rare that Arku could not but notice.
      “That is, of course, the flower that makes our most potent healing potion,” Ji-Swu said to Aleah.
      “But what happened to the sage? Did—“

      Ji-Swu shook her head. “Sadly, someone has awakened you. Look….”

To be continued.

Creative Commons License
Tharia: Roads to Adventure by James Pomeroy is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Tharia: Aleah & Shaw's Story, Part 5

Across the Elbow Sea, to the east, the cliffs of Port Mercer stood as an eternal backdrop to the bustling little town. Rising some 870’ from sea level, mottled and layered with hues of blues and and browns and greens, and shades from black to white, the cliffs presented a beautiful but severe façade to anyone approaching the port, slowly becoming visible out of the mist like the hardness and insurmountability of time itself. Of course, the dwarves saw opportunity. But that is another story.
      Across the Elbow Sea, in the west, then, Ersahome sat upon the edge of the restless water, nestling itself comfortably into the surrounding low hills. As the party walked up the wide pathway toward the western edge of town, followed at some distance by Thom Halmert, Aleah found herself feeling not a little sad over their need to depart so quickly. It was the only course of action, under the circumstances—a giant is quite literally a big deal, and the siblings’ news was unsettling for many reasons—but she wished they might have tarried awhile. One night of rest had not been enough. Aleah reeled yet from the voyage and all the strangeness here. She wanted to explore awhile, get the lay of the town and drink in its newness for herself. The low, sweeping roofs of the buildings were different from almost any she’d seen before, save for those few glimpsed through the gates of the compound behind Chimera’s Landing. What was the relation? The roads and paths were all made of interlocking paving stones, cleverly fitted and smooth, the like of which she’d never seen before.The smells were different here as well, saltier and spicier, but also very pleasing. The food tasted different, everything seemed more pungent. The people here seemed partial to bright colors and intricate patterns in their clothes. The trees on the hills were similar to the oak trees on the isle, but larger and leafier, and their stands were smaller. The grass was thinner, more slender, and a different hue of green—yellower to the Isle’s bluish blades. Kairdwenne’s presence felt stronger here, which puzzled her. She was intrigued by everything she saw, and yet this place was but one landing on the edge of the great continent. It caught her breath to think about that idea.
      “You’ve never been over before, is it?” Serenía said, suddenly just there and walking beside Aleah like she had been all along. Aleah shook her head. “Well, I’ve never been to the isle.”
      “Oh, you really should visit, Sere. It’s beautiful!’
      “I’m sure it is, Aleah. But, well, you’ve never seen Opal.”
      Aleah stopped in her tracks. “Have you? Been there, I mean…?”
      Serenía stopped and faced her, then got a strange look in her eyes, as if they had shifted their focus to some far, faraway place. “Yes. Once. Two summers ago.”
      “I,—” Aleah began.
      “I first thought that must be where you’d met your cat-man,” she said, then her eyes grew large. “Did he take you there?”
      “To Opal, of course!”

      “Oh, well, no, I—” she began, unwilling to discuss this, …discuss the Ferali.
      From out of nowhere, Shaw was suddenly at her side. “Aleah! Come look,” he said, and grasped her hand before she could even respond and led her away up the hill to its summit as Serenía looked after her, that faraway expression seeming to lock on Aleah as she ran after her brother.
      “What is it?” Aleah said, breathless and almost laughing. It was familiar. For all his quiet and brooding, Shaw seemed to be more energetic where Aleah was concerned, as if he understood that being energetic was the key to dealing with her.
      “There. Look!” He turned her around.
      They’d reached the top of the hill, climbed a fair bit above the edge of town and, there below, the shallow harbor lay. Aleah took in the sight. Ersahome was quite small, really. Evidence of how infrequently her people traveled back and forth between the isle and here. But it lent the place a rather idyllic quality. From here, the Stormy Petrel looked like a tiny ship meant to sail ponds. Then she turned around and saw that Shaw was was leaning against a tall post, atop which were three arrows. One pointed slightly down and toward the harbor. “Ersahome,” it said, “Population 335.” The other pointed south, down a rough but mostly level dirt path wide enough for two horses to ride abreast. “King’s Post,” it said, “32 King Leagues.” The third, mounted at the top, made her breath catch. It said, “Opal. 967 King Leagues.” It pointed almost due west, across trackless land.
      “Wow,” Aleah said.
      “Yeah,” Shaw said.
      A familiar voice boomed out just then.
      “This is where I bid you farewell, everybody. Yes. Fare all thee well,” said Thom Halmert, cresting the hill and looking around at everyone. “I shall of course keep locks and chains about your stuff, and wards thereupon as well. You’ll find it waiting at your safe return. Bonded watchmen only. Riders out on request for only a little gold.” He seemed nervous again, which made sense.
      “We’ll be all right, old man,” Gareth said, chucking Halmert on the shoulder with a gauntleted hand, hard enough to make the big man actually wince. “I haven’t failed to return yet, hey?”
      “Not that I know of,” Thom said, “the gods bless your heart!” He slapped Gareth on the back, and Gareth nearly lost his balance as he stumbled forward a step. “All right, then! Off with you all! I’m needed back down the hill for business, you understand.” He paused for a moment, making sure they were all looking at him. Then he said, quite somberly, “Be safe and well, everyone. Return well and fit and replete with treasures.” Then he looked right at Aleah. “You take care of them, missy.” And then to everyone else, “And you lot, look after her like your lives depend on it, right? ‘Cause of course they do. Right.”
      Gareth Graycask smiled an uncomfortable smile at her. “I’m sure she’ll try, though I’ll keep trust in my sword first.”
      The other fighter, Ben Shoemaker, smiled sheepishly at her and then faced Gareth. “Without her, you’d wind up being the first to die is my guess.”
      “That’s enough!” Halmert said. “You’ve all signed on to the same party, haven’t you then? I’ve told lots like you before: The fight should never be the party’s alone. Hey? The priestess Aleah has earned pedigree. And you, Ben Shoemaker, are too good a lad to go starting trouble with that one.” He jerked a thumb in Gareth’s direction. Gareth, his face reddening, nodded once and began walking down the road toward King’s Post without looking back. “Aleah, you may soon enough be called upon to heal Shoemaker’s nose,” Halmert said conspiratorially.
      Aleah blushed. Shaw watched Gareth’s back, his eyes narrowed. Ben, chastened, went see that Krimkikt and Serenía were ready to depart. They had walked off together toward the waiting horses, talking in low voices.
      “Good luck,” Halmert said to Aleah and Shaw. “They’re a good bunch, you’ll see. So you will. Just takes some warming up to them, eh? Same as I said to them of you two! Ha. Yes.”
      Aleah nodded, smiling, and Shaw shook his hand. He departed down the hill, leaving the two standing together beside “Bob” the packhorse as, almost randomly, the party began to saddle up for the long ride to King’s Post.
      “You ready?” Shaw asked.
      “As ever I’ll be,” Aleah answered.

To be continued.

Creative Commons License
Tharia: Roads to Adventure by James Pomeroy is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Tharia: Aleah & Shaw's Story, Part 4

  1.      The Magister shall face the darkness as the light and find illumination within it as within herself.
  2.      Be then aware of the prospect of Death.
  3.      This test is a Level 0 exercise.
  4.      Failure to pass is automatically a postmortem regret.
  5.      Successful passing liberates the Key.
  6.      Graduate status confers responsibility.
  7.      Honors confer more responsibility.

      “Why does it say ‘herself,’ Magister?” Shaw asked Magister Ardent, holding a large leather-bound tome in his hands.
      They stood in a small room with two doors, no windows, a tall silver mirror, two wooden benches, and a very high ceiling. One of the doors they had entered through, the other remained unopened, untried. There were no candles or torches. Instead, only the pale, anemic light of day fell from a domed skylight high above them. The air was dry and chilled. Shaw closed the book.
      The man seemed to stir from a moment of revery. “Hmm… Does it? Well, if you were female it would have been ‘himself,’ I’d wager. And if you were other, it would have been something else again.” The magister took the book from him and in turn handed Shaw his ceremonial alb and chasuble to put over his cassock. “Get dressed and prepare yourself, young magister-elect. The door opens in 10 minutes.”
      “Thank you,” he said, and watched Magister Ardent turn and leave the vestibule. He began to regulate his breathing, then, to tune his mind in on the spells he’d learned up to this point. As he dressed, putting on the alb and the chasuble, he reflected on his studies, knowing that it was likely he’d face something previously unknown to him. The truest test of any person, whether mage or sea captain, fighter or baker, archer or mother, was facing the unknown.
      He looked into the mirror and studied the design on the ultramarine chasuble: a broken pentacle in white beneath the two moons, Still in goldenrod, Runner in violet. A black skull was in the pentagon and two slate dog skulls lay on either side of it. He meditated on this image in his final minutes, and when the door clicked open he opened his eyes. The design on the chasuble was gone, he saw, replaced by ancient silver runes of power. The test was ready. The gantlet charged. The crucible heated.

      Through the door was a wide space. It took Shaw a moment to realize what he was seeing, for a sudden blast of bitterly cold wind washed over him. The room vanished. Snow and ice spread out around him where he stood. Ice tilted at odd angles under a black sky. Shafts of faint bluish light pierced down at differing, drifting angles here and there. He looked about, shielding his face from the wind as best he could, and then he saw some few ropes stretched upward into the void; heavy, thick ropes, thicker than his leg, rising up in bowing arcs into the sky and vanishing.
      He walked forward slowly, testing the ground before him. He felt something odd underfoot and bent down to sift through the snow. It was a staff. Cold as ice, made of ironwood, inlaid with silver runes like those on his vestment, crowned with a single, large piece of clear feldspar, called Northers’ spar or sunstone. He lifted it and held it out before him. The tip glowed slightly, though not enough to light the space around him. He already knew that he’d be at a distinct disadvantage. Anything here might well see him perfectly clearly already, while he cast about in the dark. Yet to cast a spell of illumination would certainly attract attention here. More energy was required to do what needed to be done, which was to enhance his own vision, but there was no other viable option. He could sense a presence here, and it was malignant and strong and very close. He spoke the words to himself, a subvocal utterance that triggered the channeling of energy, and the world around him lit up in colors he could not normally see. And so, there, before him, a mere twenty paces away, he saw the strange entrance between dimensions, defined by the space between the ropes which, he now realized, were more like spiderwebs. Around this area, stretching away as far as he could see, was nothing else but icy wastes.
      He walked forward. One pace. Five. Ten. Twenty. And he entered the other space and vanished from Tharia for a time.

      The coldness immediately vanished, replaced by a sickly, humid warmth. His senses reeled from the instant change. He took a moment to adjust as he looked around. There were tall black trees here under an ochre sky where a crimson sun seemed to drift like a emberfly caught in an oily pool of poisonous water, and in the distance there rose a great, rectangular tower with countless windows and glowing sigils like fire embedded in the tower’s ebon sides.
      Shaw knew that something was wrong with this world, and that it was not safe to even be here. The knowledge crept through his muscles and bones, a visceral understanding. He needed to survive this. He looked behind him. The passage back remained, though from this side it looked like a wound in the fabric of reality. Where snow drifted in it turned to ashes.
      He knelt and dug three fingers into the black soil, channeling a homing mark into the ground there. The dirt burned beneath his short nails, discoloring their crescents, but he felt the spell work and was not afraid of losing this spot. He stood up straight and looked around. There was a path a little ways from where he stood. It was like pressed ashes and coal. All around, the grass was black, the bushes were black, the trees from bark to leaves were black. The air tasted of copper beneath the red sun, and wisps of sulfur singed his sinuses. And then there was the sound. Monotone, deep, gravelly chanting.
      Shaw walked out onto the path and made his way in the direction of the tower. It was impossible to tell how far away it was. The proportions of this world were deceptive. What looked like a tree became a knotted bush no higher than his knee. What looked like dead, torn grass became a stand of tree trunks stripped of branches. Every few steps seemed to make this world’s measures shift. It even altered his sense of where his mark was. One moment, it felt close, and the next like it was hundreds of feet away. One moment unsettled him, when the mark felt like it was hundreds of miles away, though the sense of that distance lasted merest seconds. He thought it was as if this world was somehow shattered, cracked, dislocated.
      He walked on for a while, and then in the uncertain distance he spied upon a figure walking toward him. Tall, human-like, robed in hooded, faded, colorless, charcoal-shaded garments. Walking with a vargur—like a large, hateful wolf, emaciated but yet more muscular than a wolf—on a leash like a silver, thorny vine that seemed to wrap about the figure’s large, skeletal right hand, while in its left hand it bore a long, slender sword. The figure’s eyes glowed a dead yellow as it walked slowly along the meandering path.
      In that moment there was no other choice. To go back the way he’d come would not spare him this test, but leave him alone in the cold to freeze to death. To hide would only delay what was certain to come. But to face this thing…. And what was it? Could it be reasoned with? Was it sure to attack him or sic its beast on him? He could not tarry too long in indecision. He still had, it seemed, the advantage of surprise, for the thing had in no way betrayed any awareness of his presence.
      Then Shaw put together the figure and the chanting, and for a moment he felt more frightened than he’d ever been. A desperate desire to run came over him. It wormed its way into his joints, tried to loose his guts. He nearly swooned and fell into panic. He fought to still himself. He forced his breath to maintain its rhythm. Through gritted teeth he raised his eyes and looked upon the figure. It knew he was here. It had all along. This was its first attack, an assault on his pysche, he realized, and he immediately threw up a shield to absorb the assault. The panic fear abated, and the thing’s eyes grew brighter, like sulfur flares, fueled by rage. Yet it did not loose the vargur on him. In the back of Shaw’s mind, this stuck. It reminded him of something, but he had no time to consider what it might be.
      He cast forth three fireballs at the robed figure. Two hit the vargur as if pulled to it, and one hit the figure. Its howl was like a hundred enraged bears. Within the howl, words formed. “How dare you? Come! Come to me! Come into the fire yourself and burn!”
      The thing seemed to reverse time around itself and the fireball leapt away from it and sped back at Shaw, hitting him in the chest and finishing off the last of his shield. He felt the air around him warp and crackle and suddenly he was pulled along the ground as if by hooks. He barely had enough time to roll away from the vargur’s snapping jaws, its maniacal eyes like orbs of spoiled mercury dancing in its head as its gray tongue lashed about in its mouth, slathering between its long, knife-like teeth. He gasped and channeled another spell, flipping out of the spot he was in and teleporting ten yards away, just in time to avoid the slender sword’s whiplike descent. He loosed three more fireballs at the figure and again two hit the beast instead and only one hit the figure. This time, its howl was different, and Shaw watched as the leash pulsed with a greenish light and the vargur, which had been felled, rose up again. The two monsters shrieked at him.
      He cast a lightning ball at them both, which drifted away from him slowly, building charge, and then crackled into a storm against both creatures. As the figure raised its free hand to protect what lay hidden within the hood, the vargur fell again. Again, Shaw loosed three fireballs against the figure, and this time all three hit it, even as the lightning ball continued to crackle and strike it. He laughed in crazed relief as the hooded form began to smolder and burn, the vargur staying down. “I got you! I got you!” he yelled. “I got you!”
      Then something bit into his hand.
      Another vargur, which had slipped up behind him as he laid the other and its robed companion to rest, had sunk its long teeth deep into his hand. He cried out in pain as the beast tugged and tore at him, but more than that, he cried out in abject horror, for from the wound the beast was inflicting he could feel a cord pulling loose and stretching out, a burning leash of his own flesh. He could not pull away. The pain was too much. Then his vestments began to blacken, and from his left hand a piercing pain made his sight grow dim as a sword blade began to slip from his arm, piercing through and then lengthening from his bleeding palm. He became dizzy, and the chanting rose in his head. Words from beyond space and time, evil and all-consuming, pulling him into their thrall—forever. He would replace what he had taken. He would become one of them.
      And he understood then what was expected. He summoned all his remaining strength and let go of his mortal senses, and the runes flashed and flew free of his vestments like a storm of nails, shredding the vargur at his hand. He collapsed as the evil magic dissipated, all his energy spent, and began to crawl back to the homing mark. Whatever he was supposed to accomplish, he could only hope he’d done it.

      As he crawled through the strange passage, returning to Tharia, sick and burning with fever, he wondered if he had failed. Doubt curled him into a ball in the snow as the icy wind blew over him and quickly piled a drift against him.
      When next he woke, it was in Chimera’s Landing. He knew this room. It was the infirmary. He’d seen more than one mage wind up here. They did not always leave it alive. But he felt whole again, though bone weary and thirsty. He’d survived, somehow. Now it was just for him to wait on the verdict. He supposed that it was rendered already.
      From behind his left shoulder a familiar voice said softly, “You passed, Shaw Craetwyrtha. With honors.” Then he drifted off again, wondering what responsibility would be his now.

To be continued.

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Tharia: Roads to Adventure by James Pomeroy is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Tharia: Aleah & Shaw's Story, Part 3

They disembarked from the Stormy Petrel as the sun crested the horizon behind them, its light very like the pink lemonade their mother made. Shaw carried some of their personal belongings, but more would have to be brought from the ship when it was time.
      “We should find Halmert and tell him of the giant,” Aleah said as Shaw adjusted the large holdall on his shoulder. He nodded and raised his chin, looking behind her. She turned and saw a man approaching, his relief apparent.
      “Good morning, good morning, good morning, Craetwyrthas! Welcome to Ersahome! Welcome… haha!” Thom Halmert was a stout, barrel chested man. His large face one of pronounced features, his hands and feet twice the size of most men’s. His clothes were all thick, heavy, ship workers style, treated wool and oilskin bibs and heavy seaboots, which seemed by the wear on them to have been used just this morning to kick a dozen obstinate stones to sand. “Let’s go get breakfast, eh? Help you get your legs back from the sea, as it were. Here, then, Shaw—yeh… yes, Shaw! Shaw! Yes. Here we go,” he said as he plucked the holdall from Shaw’s shoulder like an old sock only halfway full of thistledown. “Come along! Come along! Oh, and you, Miss Aah—? …Alma? Ally? No. Aleah it is! Pretty as a summer sunrise sure enough, ‘cept you’re all in green, aren’t you just? Pleasure to meet you!”
      Shaw and Aleah looked at each other, each imagining that they’d soon be exhausted due to simple proximity to Mr Halmert. As they sat in the small tavern just off the pier, called The Sea Foal, gazing out the propped-open double doors at the breakwater, the docks, carved pilings, and indolent, so-far-flightless gulls, Shaw hoarsely whispered, mimicking Halmert’s cadence, “He’s going to talk us to death, sure enough, sure enough, sure he is! And you’ll be dead, Miss Almawhatisit? Dead in green, won’t you be?”
      Aleah snorted and clapped her hands over her mouth, her eyes narrowing accusatively at him. Once she could control her laughter without having to stifle herself, she mouthed the word “Stop” at him, her face pink with mirth and embarrassment, and chuckled quietly to herself. She looked around the place. Passengers were gathering along with some folks who must be locals. They looked like people from the north of King’s Isle to Aleah, and their accents were as often odd as familiar. As she watched all the people coming in and going out, she hardly touched her plate. It was covered nearly three inches deep in hashed potatoes, cut and seasoned potato wedges, cherry tomatoes, spinach, chunks of blue cheese, mushrooms, sausage, scrambled eggs, and various green and purple herbs, and the smell alone had left her feeling fairly stuffed. She watched, somewhat in disbelief, as Shaw shoveled his breakfast into his face as if he’d be saving up hunger for just this occasion. Halmert, meanwhile, was nowhere to be seen, but his booming voice kept drifting to them from somewhere relatively nearby. Finally, she said, “He’s certainly friendly enough.”
      “He would be,” Shaw said. “I’m fresh from Chimera’s Landing and you’re a skilled healer and friend of Fer—”
      “Shhh!” She warned him. “Not here.”
      “All right, all right,” he said. “But we’re off the Isle now and this is the big, bad world, so I’m betting nobody’s quite so prone to misgivings over your suspected friendship with”—he made a vague gesture with his hand, careless of the fork and potato—”one of them.” He saw the look on her face and sighed. “Sorry. Fine. You’re right.”
      “Places and times, brother. Places. And. Times.”

      After some while, Halmert returned. He seemed a tad calmer, now, and more serious. Shaw guessed that he was the sort of man who became gregarious directly in proportion to the degree of discomfort he was feeling. His present demeanor made Shaw feel less apprehensive.
      He pulled out a chair, turned it around, and sat on it. Its wood protested, but he paid it no mind. “All right, then. I’ve got a room secured for meeting the other members of the expedition, and they’re all arrived. If you’re good and done, we’ll head over there. Your gear will be stowed in your room by the time you arrive there, hey? So….” He smiled, rose from the chair, and spun it back into place with a wood-scraping clatter.
      Aleah rose first. “I’m ready,” she said, and pulled from her robe’s left sleeve a pendant, which she had secreted there until now. She fastened the slender platinum chain around her neck, and the strange jewel, like green ice or mercury or sapphire, momentarily sparkled as it touched her skin. There was an odd lull in conversation precisely then, causing The Sea Foal to fall silent for a second. It was as if everyone was surprised by the lull, and then it was over.
      But Halmert gazed at the jewel. “I’ve seen a piece like that before,” he said slowly. “How did you come across it? Was it a… a gift?”
      “Yes,” she said. “Shall we go?”
      “Yes, Mr Halmert. Let’s?” Shaw added, eyeing his sister like she was crazy.
      Thom Halmert was not the only one to take notice of Aleah’s pendant that morning.

      “…And my axe!” the dwarf was saying as they entered. He looked at Halmert, then Shaw, and then did a double-take on Aleah, took three surprisingly long strides, hopped up on a table between them, and pointed at the pendant. “By all the ice of the north, where did you get that pendant, woman? Tell me now and true.”
      Aleah was, to say the least, taken aback. This was the fist Iron dwarf she had ever seen. Unlike their very social cousins, the Müde, who had visited King’s Isle for centuries and long ago established a healthy trading alliance with the humans there, Iron dwarves were mostly the stuff of legend. Whatever rumors there were of the Isle’s alliances with the friendly dwarves, Iron dwarves were simply not commonly seen outside the lands known as Far Stone Hearth, home of all dwarves, many mountains, countless volcanoes,—and wyrms.
      The dwarf was eyeing her intently as he stood on the table, his bright yellow eyes unsettling to Aleah.
      “It was a gift from a Ferali,” she said.
      And then everyone was looking at her.
      Shaw sighed.

      Serenía was the only other person in the party to have met a Ferali. She was quick to get between Aleah and the others there. “You all knew already that I’d met one before,” she said, “so let’s not get riled up now. The priestess is just another like me.”
      “Quite right! Right she is! Everyone sit down and let’s get the introductions out of the way. Explanations and personal anecdotes and shocking revelations will wait, hey?” Halmert was quick to direct the dwarf, Krimkikt, and Serenía back to the long table where they’d been seated.
      “Just a token of its affection, I guess,” the dwarf muttered as he sat.
      “There’s no l in token,” Serenía said to him.
      “It’s my accent, then? Leave me be. I want to know how she got a gift from one of them. You didn’t get one, eh? It’s an omen, good or ill. An omen.”
      Serennía momentarily glared at him as she folded her arms and hunched her shoulders.
      Halmert bade Aleah and Shaw sit. “You’ve met Krimkikt. This is Serenía.” (“Call me Sere,” she said.) “This is Ben, and this one’s Gareth.” The two men nodded but barely vocalized a greeting.
      Everyone nodded, shook hands, seemed friendly, though the dwarf seemed reticent to look at Aleah for more time than it took to cast suspicion at her.
      Then Aleah suddenly remembered something. Oh, wonderful. Don’t let me be the one, she thought, and kicked Shaw’s ankle under the table. He looked at her, puzzled, and she mouthed the word. His face fell, but he nodded.
      “We saw a giant on our approach. Late into the night, some mere hours from Craftland’s Point,” Shaw said.
      “Ohhh nay, nay, nay,” Krimkikt said, and ran a hand over his face.
      This news set the table at a roar for a bit, and as the siblings shared the details, the disquiet settled into the marrow of this first meeting. It was some time before poor Thom Halmert was able to get everyone calmed and quieted, though he was very, very, very friendly about it.

To be continued.

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Tharia: Roads to Adventure by James Pomeroy is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Tharia: Aleah & Shaw's Story, Part 2

"A sky more vast / Unfolds at last"
—Anon, King's Home, 1277

The mages’ tower, called Chimera’s Landing, stood in King’s Home opposite the hill, where once upon a time a lowly redoubt squatted, and upon which the great Feldspar Castle now towered. From street level, where its broad, circular base defined the northernmost edge of the District of Secrets, it reached nearly 400’ into the sky, its highest windows level with the king’s court three quarters of a mile away.
     For nearly two hundred years the tower served as the monolithic and unassailable center of what would come to be called King’s Home. It was the oldest building within the city’s walls. Raised from a great focal point of magical energy by the mysterious Eight Mages of the Chimera over 1300 years ago, it slowly grew into the sky as the redoubt to its south was fortified and expanded on the hill.
     Originally, the tower was flat-topped and only half again taller than it was round. The mages then dwelling within it were monkish, bookish, and disinterested in politics, war, or the building of nations. They were, however, quite adept at self-preservation, and managed to rid the region of its bugbears, ogres, goblins, giant spiders and other aggressive, dangerous beasties. They also, as a matter of policy, taught people to read who had the inclination, and lent their powers to ensuring the wells were clean, the harvests safe from pestilence, and the weather…. Well, they couldn’t actually help with the weather, but the people thought they did. Therefore, people moved close by, and slowly there arose a fortified wall, a constabulary, and a permanent, safe place for a farmers market and trading post. Over time, a merchant class arose in the loose collection of villages, and the merchants pushed for unity and greater protection against raids by the Garithanat, the big-boned mountain people who dwelt in the south of the island, whose incursions into the region were then becoming more frequent, bolder, and bloodier. Indeed, with the aid of the mages, the safety of the redoubt, and the impenetrability of the mages’ tower, the mountain people were successfully kept at bay and ultimately a truce was established. Trade was far more attractive than pointless incursions that yielded little to prize. Eating, as ever, was better than dying, but better still was eating without the threat of dying for the chance.
     Those who ventured to the mountains of the south as guests of the mountain people soon discovered an amazing thing. Garithanat masonry was beautiful and the product of great skill. It blended so well into the mountainous region that it was nearly invisible, yet once observed it was obvious and seemingly everywhere, shoring up natural ramparts and adding secret, perfectly level pathways through them, subtly reorienting rivers to create fishing ponds and mineral traps, concealing villages from sight that were otherwise in plain view, and so on.
     Thus it was no surprise when the mages contracted the Garithanat masons to build a castle where the overblown redoubt now stood in disrepair. It was also guessed that the masons further raised the mages’ tower, though this was not the case.

     As well as tasking him endlessly, Magister Ardent directed Shaw’s studies. Tradition dictated that the Magister must in all ways serve the student’s natural interests, even when those interests seemed certain to ultimately prove deadly to the student. Magisters of eld and magisters of the present spent a great deal of time scrying and divining the paths of their students so that they, the magisters of King’s Isle, might best serve them without unduly biasing their choices.
     It was a difficult task. The students were inevitably aware of the tradition, of course, and therefore would spend an inordinate and unadvisable amount of time attempting to puzzle out their own occulted futures in the countless choices of the magisters, while the magisters endeavored to thwart such efforts without further risking unsettling the students’ magically “magnetized” timelines.
     Shaw wondered: Am I studying the life of the sea because my work is to be upon it or under it, or…? Or is it just because I live on an island and it’s important and useful to know such things? He sighed heavily as he considered his recent lessons, so close now to the point at which he would be ushered from the tower for the last time as a mere student mage.
     Shaw Craetwyrtha, along with his sister, Aleah, had been born to lives destined for greater things than their heritage strictly warranted. Fate was fickle, and sometimes that meant it behaved exceedingly kindly for some while overlooking others. Their mother had ever sought to instill that understanding, yet equally was she proud of their seizing the opportunities that had come to them.
     Magister Ardent had not been at all surprised to see Shaw turn up at the tower door one spring morning. Those children who felt the unmistakeable calling of the tower would show up when the time was right, often unsure why they had come. Occasionally, for a variety of reasons noble or ignoble, some adult would insist on a child’s going, but in such cases the mages were adamant that there would be no admission if the child was not then called by the tower. What the magister was surprised by in Shaw’s case was the great potential in the boy’s possible timelines. It was unusual, an omen in itself of changes coming to the world, though what those changes might be were… too soon to divine, or too carefully hidden by the fates.

     Aleah Craetwyrtha watched her brother enter the tower that day, her hand in her mother’s. She was but five years old, then, precocious and inquisitive, and in no way interested in the tower. Her mother looked into her bright green eyes—the very soul of springtime—and said, “You’re young, yet.”
     “Not so young,” Aleah responded, and her mother laughed.
     In fact, Aleah did have a calling. She had not articulated it to herself, then, but it was there in her dreams, and as the springtime of her ninth year blossomed, she began to feel the pull of it, as inexorable as gravity, leading her to beg her mother for more trips out into the fields and woods about King’s Home.
     Such trips only had the effect of making Aleah more restless. Her brother, then 14, had learned enough during his visits home to know that this restlessness was not simply his spritely sister’s age showing. Back at the tower, he asked Magister Observant about it. The magister, who specialized in the myths and mythography of King’s Isle and its people, gave it consideration, and after a week returned his answer. “She will know soon enough,” he said. “Had you asked me four years ago, I’d have had a more enlightening—or, eh, at least interesting, response. But that’s the way it is. Off with you, now.” He made a shooing gesture, and that was that. Later that day, he would drop in on Magister Doom to share some observations with her.
     But of course he was right.

     She lay in bed, wide awake, and watched the Runner Moon passing by. It was very bright, she thought, for the Still Moon was absent that night. She rose and pulled a chair up beneath the high window of her room, which she stood upon to get a better view of the night and the runner. From her vantage point, she could see that it must be very late, for all about her there was darkness now, and no-one walked the streets.
     The little moon slowly turned as it traveled west to east across the bejeweled sky. She sighed as she watched it, frustrated with her insomnia, and put out with the nagging feeling she always had now, like a bezoar stone in her belly. She was just about to get down from the chair and go back once more to toss and turn in her bed when, there, not 20 yards away, she spied a cat unlike any she’d ever seen before. Its bright green eyes glowed from its blue-black face, and one moment it seemed to have stripes and the next to be black as jet and unmarked. Strangest still was the fact that it was gazing up at her with no pretense at all. It was as if it knew she’d be there just then.
     She dressed hurriedly and made her way as quietly as possible to the door of her house. Her mother was fast asleep in the adjacent room, but she still took her time opening the door just enough to slip out between it and the jamb without getting hooked on the large metal latch. She softly closed the heavy door behind her and moved cautiously down the walk, past the small garden—redolent of leafy things, and heady with the scents of tomatoes, green-gold river squash, and spearmint—and moved out into the street where she’d seen the strange cat. It was gone, and for a moment she despaired, but then it was there again, further down the narrow street now, beckoning her with its tail! She rubbed her eyes. It gazed at her. She gazed back. It turned and began to walk, and she followed it.
     She followed the cat at a walking pace for the better part of an hour. Occasionally pausing when it did, and somehow therefore not being seeing by members of the night patrol, nor any drunkards heading to or from a tavern, nor any other person defying good sense by being up so late. Eventually, the cat led her to one of the city gates. Stranger and strangest of all, the guards had picked just that moment to be away, and as she walked out into the open past the gate, she marveled at just how peculiar a dream might be, for certainly this one felt very real. And it had to be a dream, after all, because in real life cats do not turn into tall people with long pointed ears and glowing green eyes. “Don’t be frightened, Aleah,” the cat person said, his voice like heavy, rich cream.
     “I’m not,” Aleah said.
     “Good,” he said. “Come then and take my hand. We need to get somewhere a little too far away for walking. You’ll be back before you know it.”
     Aleah swallowed, took a deep breath, and walked to him, taking his outstretched hand. It was warm and black as midnight. He smiled. He had teeth like a cat.

To be continued.

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Tharia: Roads to Adventure by James Pomeroy is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Monday, July 14, 2014

As The Story Progresses

A word from the author…

It is important for me to make clear a couple things at this point.

1) All work presented here is, however polished or complete, a draft, subject to revision and likely to be revised before it sees print on real paper. While I don't foresee there ever being drastic changes to any storyline, it is quite possible that I'll tweak some detail here or there, or flesh out something else, or trim the fat generally. As the final arbiter of what Tharia is and how its stories are told, I intend to be fussy and thorough in the name of getting it right. I'm fairly sure that's a good thing.

2) This is a major learning experience for me! It is also a chance for me to shine creatively and run free and mostly unbounded. Thing is, Tharia is not simply some idea I have. Rather, it is the summation of all my hopes and desires, representing my love of fantasy realms, a deep-seated love born in the reading of Old School fantasy literature, nursed by worlds of mythology, and reared on a diet of D&D and World of Warcraft.


3) My open sharing of Tharia's stories—by offering to backers roles in its unfolding history—is an expression of my desire to excite and enrapture others with the joy of fantasy. Of course doing so benefits me, but it is also a monumental challenge that I feel a calling to tackle. You have the opportunity to actually interact with an author, me, and stake a claim in my world. It is a grand experiment, altering fundamentally how I treat my characters, because some of them shall effectively be real people. How all of this works now is mostly theoretical, but in future it will create a world enjoyed purely as a story by most, while a few others will know that they participated in its active realization by lending themselves like live spirits to its development while supporting its continued existence.

The story will be grand, to be sure. Tharia is a huge world, with vast stretches of virtually unknown lands just waiting for exploration, peopled with all manner of intelligent species, along with monsters and other fascinating creatures—some familiar, some not.

It is my sincerest hope that you will want to explore it with me.

If you spend time on Facebook, then please check out Tharia's presence there!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Tharia: Aleah & Shaw’s Story, Part 1

Sunrise in Ersahome

High above the deep blue water, Aleah gaped in amazement. From the crow’s nest, the call went out, “Land ho! Land to port!” At last, she thought, her breath quickening, her green eyes growing wide. At last! There, in the distance, she saw it, as the ship rose atop the great, heaving swells of the Elbow Sea: the seemingly endless coastline of Ersa, caught in the pale light of the late afternoon’s westering sun. It seemed almost an illusion yet—land ghostly faded and blue-hued, barely defined apart from the distant sea and cloud-smudged sky— it was real. Real!
     She turned and quickly descended the stairs from the fo'c's'le, her pale green robes gathered and lifted in one hand to keep them from tripping her, her other hand out for balance, passing Denton the navvy on her way down, her long blonde hair like a stream of sunlight flowing after her. “Did you see it? Did you see the land? To port! To port!” she nearly shouted in her excitement.
     “Aye, young priestess. I did,” he called after her back, smiling and shaking his head. “We’ll be to port by the morrow, steady on the Fates’ way if they are kind,” he shouted, though she was paying him no more mind in her excitement as she went to find her brother.

     “Shaw! Oh, Shaw!” Standing at the top of the double-wide stairs, peering into the shadows below, she did not want to head belowdecks to search for him, not when she could cast her eyes on the horizon and see land. “Come up and see!” she pleaded. “The land is visible!” It was useless, of course. Too much was going on amidships, as ever, and sailors and soldiers and officers and passengers were bustling up and down the steep stairs, going about their business, bustling to and fro like very determined ants. He would never hear her, she thought. “Shaw!” she tried again. Hopeless.
     She started with surprise when he touched her shoulder, of course. It was as if he had caused a spark to jump between them, and she might have been cross but for the glory of the day and his disarming, innocuous smile, his pale blue eyes, as ever, calm and friendly, peering down at her from under his long, windblown, sandy-brown hair. Still, she had to ask him where he’d come from just then, or had he been on deck the whole time she’d been calling? He only smiled more. “Come along, then. Show me,” he said, his voice sounding vaguely amused.
     She led him by the hand, negotiating the busy deck and guiding him up the steep stairs, back to the fo’c’s’le, and thence to port where, leaning out over the bulwark precariously, she pointed, all enthusiasm. “There! Look and see!”
     And he did.
     Denton came to stand beside them. “It’s Craftland’s Point,” he said.
     “Where the King slew the wyrm,” Shaw said, looking at Denton, who nodded. He turned and scanned the horizon, though it was too far yet for even Shaw to make much out. “I wish we were dropping anchor there, if only for a day. The history must yet be visible there to anyone. And who knows what else might be discovered, by those with a special interest in the place.”
     “Nobody goes there, now, magister,” Denton said. “The wyrm’s blood tainted the land where it soaked in. Even the stones went rotten as wormy apples.”
     The three stood in silence awhile.
     Gazing out at the vague, misty coastline, Aleah said at last, as if to herself, “We’ll be better off in Ersahome than nearer that place. Three hundred and two-score-more brave warriors died there, though Kel Benson prevailed in the end. It is a sad, sad place. I feel it now I’ve reached out to it.”
     Shaw and Denton remained quiet, and the sounds of the sails and creaking of the ship’s wood, the shaking of its rigging and the endless splashing flow of the sea below, seemed then but a strange diaphanous veil draped haphazardly over the sounds of a distant battle, fought nearly 30 years before.

     The voyage had been swift. The clime was temperate, and the wind stayed abaft the beam on the starboard side for much of the journey, and so the Stormy Petrol had made the coast of Ersa and Craftland’s Point in a mere two days. They would arrive at the port of Ersahome sometime in the early morning of the morrow, mere hours away.
     Having supped together in their cabin, Aleah had taken her leave to go once more above where the air was as fresh as the night was cool. This was her preference. As a priestess of Kairdwenne, she preferred being out of doors among nature’s own. Eventually, she would have to brave the underworld, but that time had not come yet, and she was no way eager to hasten its arrival.
     Shaw had, in her absence, gone once again to converse with the seasoned pilot, Teltin Kelver, with whom he found some camaraderie, owing to their both being introspective, cautious, and socially retiring, nor any way intentionally aloof.
     “Seasonal winds favor the speed of the voyage this time of year,” Teltin said, nodding to himself and continuing to write notes and calculations in his log. “All we’re lucky, o’ course, as this time favors the sea serpents just as well, which too often adds a day or longer to the sailing.” And that was, in fact, usually true to a disquieting degree. Travelers had shared many tales over the years, and nearly all of them discouraged the very prudent from considering the voyage during summertime. Aleah had spotted one of the frightful beasts on the first day of the voyage, mere hours out from Port Mercer, engaged in mortal combat with a group of large, sleek whales, piebald and ferocious in demeanor. The sea serpent did not stand much of a chance against what Shaw told her was a “pod” of the black and white whales, and soon enough she saw its roiling coils no more, but a few of the whales’ tall black fins were seen to circle there for awhile as the ship passed by the scene . Eventually, she lost sight of them, and it turned out to be the only time she saw any creatures in the water save for some schools of large fish.
     “It is passing strange that the sea has been so void of life this voyage,” Teltin said as he and Shaw shared a drink in his cabin. Shaw raised an inquisitive eyebrow and Teltin said, “Gods’ truth. This is the time of year the sea serpents migrate up the Elbow to the northern coasts.”
     “A slurry so thick they foul the nets, as the chantey goes,” Shaw said.
     “They foul the nets and gnaw on the keel,” Teltin agreed.
     “So what’s happened, then?”
     “I don’t know, though it’s ignorance that pains me to keep it.”

     All that last night, Shaw and Aleah had been too restless to sleep. They were not alone in that. Among the dozen or so passengers making the trip from King’s Isle to the Ersa mainland, at least half were awake and about throughout the cool, humid night. Twice, they’d inadvertently startled another passenger, each of whom, wandering wraithlike upon the deck, had clearly thought him, and then herself, alone among the sleepless.
     They had come nearer the shoreline, and whenever the wind lulled, from leeward strange scents, earthy and vegetative, reached them. The climate steadily slipped from the damp coolness of the sea into a denser, warmer humidity that hinted at summer’s pressing heat. In the distance, off port side, lightning flickered redly from time to time. Far south of them, a line of thunderstorms stretched for over a hundred leagues, east to west. Common wisdom said they were lucky the wind favored them and not such a line of storms. But who might say how long their luck would last once they made Ersahome?
     “We will rue our obstinate wakefulness, I fear,” Shaw said to her as they leaned sleepily against the foremast and watched the bowsprit rise and fall.
     “Well, it will do us no good to dwell on it, either. Besides which, I am not inclined to give in to sleep so close to the shore. You never know what you might mi—”
     Lightning flashed in the far off distance, somewhere inland and far away, and in that moment, even at a mile out from the shoreline, she saw a form briefly silhouetted in the flickering light. Massive. Moving. Walking. She turned and looked at Shaw, whose eyes were narrowed, focused, and searching. A light flickered from within them, momentarily lighting his brow and cheeks. He took in a breath.
     “You saw that, then,” she said.
     “Oh yes.”
     “I thought my mind played a trick on me. What—?”
     “It was a giant, Aleah,” Shaw said, at least as impressed with the sight as she was. “It’s a very big giant, too, I’m thinking.” To Aleah’s ears he sounded positively gleeful to see such a sight, but he sobered quickly enough.
     “Was it walking in the direction of Ersahome?” Aleah asked, her mouth suddenly dry, her stomach growing tight with anxiety. She shook her head, said, “Never mind. I already know the answer to that. But will it…?” Her voice trailed off as the lightning flickered again. The giant had turned away from the coast and was headed further inland, west-southwest toward King’s Post, its massive form nearly 200 feet tall, even hunched like it was, the head of its club rising over its shoulder, tipped with sharpened stones bigger than a northerman’s pride.
     King’s Post… A town she and her brother only knew from stories of olden days, for only the most adventurous of their people went there now. Would it even be there when they arrived?

To be continued.

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Tharia: Roads to Adventure by James Pomeroy is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.