Table of Contents
Kieran looked out over the placid lake, frowning, and turned back to the others. Beside him, Khory was tapping his hammerâ€™s end on the ground as he watched the area thoughtfully, and Nia was glancing around nervously. Elena kept one hand on the spellbox, gazing out over what had once been the most northerly bog in Creation. Now, it was a vast pool of water, still and clear. Near its centre, a single island stood, and, straining his eyes, Kieran thought he could see a faint red light gleaming where it caught the sunâ€™s rays.
â€œI think we can safely say that somethinâ€™s wrong here.â€ Khory looked over at the others. â€œAt least we know why the riverâ€™s flowinâ€™ more strongly, now.â€
â€œYep.â€ Kieran sighed. â€œThis is going to be a lot more work than I thought. Any god that can do something like this is stronger than I expected.â€ He looked over at the others. â€œThoughts?â€
â€œFind a bigger god?â€ Elena shot Khory a look, and he raised his arms defensively. â€œHey, Iâ€™m serious! There arenâ€™t any swamps around here, butâ€¦â€
â€œActually, thatâ€™s not a bad point.â€ Kieran brushed his hair back, turning towards the lake again. Bits of trees and moss still floated on the surface. â€œGods are supposed to have other gods keeping an eye on them, so that things like this donâ€™t happen. All the minor corruptions you see are easy enough to slip past an overseer, but something like this? Massive ecological change?â€ He shook his head. â€œSomethingâ€™s very wrong, here.â€
â€œSpeaking of which, nobody panic, but weâ€™re being watched.â€ Elena kept her voice low and friendly, but her eyes were intent. Nia went rigid, and Kieran only just kept from spinning to look. â€œIdeas?â€
â€œSay hello?â€ Khory frowned thoughtfully, looking over the lake, but his hands shifted their grip so that they could send the hammer spinning into action if need be. â€œMight be locals.â€
â€œOr monsters.â€ Nia spoke softly, eyes darting back and forth as she kept herself still.
â€œThe former, actually.â€ The bushes rustled, and two people stepped out; all four travellers turned towards him. The first was a small man, waddling towards them, and he was like nothing any of them had seen before. Although he stood upright, he looked like nothing more than a hopping toad; green-skinned, with a wide mouth and eyes set pointing almost perfectly away from each other, his legs strong and flippered and his arms smaller. He was wearing a brown fur jacket and breeches, but no boots, and his voice was watery and tremulous. â€œWho are you, who intrude on our sorrow?â€
The second man was much taller, and his white hair was swept backwards down his neck, setting off the strange silver tattoos that were dull against his skin, like gray shadows. He stood over six feet tall, and as he looked over the group, Kieran got the uneasy impression of someone sizing up an opponent as a fellow, or as prey. His clothes were well-fitted, forest green laced with silver, and a pair of gleaming silver bracers adorned his arms. He chuckled faintly, and nodded to the group. â€œPatience, Laerus. These are the people I told you about.â€ He turned his attention to Kieran. â€œYou are here to help, are you not?â€
â€œUm, yes.â€ Kieran blinked, and then bowed. â€œI am Kieran, and my companions are Elena, Khory, and Nia.â€ He smiled faintly. â€œAnd you?â€
â€œSirrim Three-Sight, a wanderer in these parts. My companion is the leader of the Grayhyssop tribe, Laerus.â€
Laerus nodded, but his expression was distrustful. â€œWe have had many dealings with humans, and few enough ended well for us. But if Sirrim vouches for your honesty, I will accept you.â€
â€œAlright, thank you. What happened here?â€ Kieran pointed to the lake. â€œWe had heard that there was a problem, but this seems excessive, to say the least.â€
â€œIt began with the failing of the migrations last fall, and progressed to this.â€ Laerus sighed. â€œIt was a warm winter. Very warm. The winds did not blow as they do, and the winter storms stayed in the north rather than shifting south.â€
â€œThe Bear slept.â€ Khory murmured under his breath, and Laerus nodded.
â€œI see you have journeyed the north. Yes, our legends say that winters such as this are those that the Wind Master sleeps in his cave, and this was no exception. But with the spring came danger.â€
Sirrim nodded, taking up the narrative. â€œIâ€™ve been seeing it all across the North, this year. Water spirits are moving into places that they shouldnâ€™t, and no one seems to want to stop them. Other spirits are driven away, or destroyed â€“ the North is starting to change. If this keeps up, water may usurp much of the Northâ€™s traditional roles.â€ He paused. â€œIâ€™ve been trying to track the changes back to their source, but I havenâ€™t had much luck. When I came here, though, I ran into something new.â€
â€œAnd just who are you?â€ Elena frowned. â€œTracking gods like petty brigands, with those tattoos.â€
â€œI thought you would have guessed.â€ Sirrim smiled. â€œI suppose your knowledge is yet young, Twilight, or you would have shared it by now.â€ As Kieran started in surprise, he raised a hand. â€œI will re-introduce myself more fully. I am Sirrim-Threesight, Chosen of Luna, of the Changing Moon Caste.â€ As he spoke, a faint silver glow begin to come from his tattoos as they lit and pulsed, and a gleaming crescent mark appeared on his forehead.
Elena gasped, and Khoryâ€™s hands shifted, almost drawing his hammer from the ground. Kieran frowned thoughtfully, as did Nia. After a moment, Khory relaxed, and spoke with a chuckle. â€œYou are friend, I take it, and not foe?â€
â€œTales of our demonic nature have been, shall we sayâ€¦ exaggerated.â€ Sirrimâ€™s smile was not quite amused. â€œMuch as yours have been, Master Kieran.â€
â€œFair enough.â€ Kieran considered for a moment, and then shrugged. â€œI have memories â€“ faint ones â€“ of you as allies, and youâ€™ve revealed yourself to us in good faith. I trust you.â€ Sirrimâ€™s anima faded away as he spoke. â€œBesides, you might be just the help we need.â€
â€œFunny, thatâ€™s just what I was thinking about you.â€ Sirrim smiled again, and turned to Laerus. â€œCan we adjourn to your home, my friend? Out here in the open, we may attract attention we do not want.â€
â€œOf course.â€ Laerus turned to the others. â€œIt is not much; our village was mostly destroyed by the rising waters. But it will do, for now. Come, follow us.â€ He turned, and began walking back towards the bushes. After a moment, the others followed, glancing back at the great lake that remained their objective.