COPYRIGHT JOEY B
A traveler and self-professed student of history huddled herself into a ball on the rocky ground, under a bole of an ancient tree. The monsoon rains are relentless and her only protection from the wind, rain and icy coldness was her thick cloak of synthetic materials and the makeshift roof she constructed out of leafy underbrush. With her meager skills in wood magic, she had built a shelter thick enough to keep her partially dry and her cloak will keep her partially warm.
Such survival skills were necessary; Ireulun had been cautious about the possibly risky situations of backpacking through this unknown world.
It didn’t help her mood though. Half of her wished she could go back out into the night, back across the barren rocky lands and to the slaveship. It must have felt confused, to have found a master who wished not to be a master.
The other half wished the slaveship would come fly itself and get her. Her resolve to allow the living flycraft make its own choice, the freedom to make its own choice, was slowly wearing out her patience.
Especially in the dark, stormy night.
Ireulun felt a sudden birth of mirth, possibly as her wits were driven out of her by the cold. She imagined what strange events would occur on such dark stormy nights, and would she be there to witness it.
Hopefully not a hailstorm. Her little bush-house probably would stand little chance. And she wanted to sleep. By sunrise, the weather would be mild enough for her to leave her spot and find a more sufficient shelter. It was only early winter; the series of hurricanes that plagued the isles every winter had not yet appeared. Only very cold storms.
Some perverse mind reader must have heard her thought and teased the storm to bring forth the little drops of ice she so despised.
Ireulun groaned when something that sounded like pebbles hitting on a plastic tent reverberated above her. They were tiny at least, but some were still big enough to pierce through the leaves and batter her through her cloak. Rainwater dripped through the holes made by the hailstones as well, dripping on her back and chased away whatever left of the comfortable warmth she had.
Ireulun groaned even louder, the noise ignored by the howling winds, the splatter of rain and little hailstones on rocks. She curled herself up even tighter and avoided the steadily falling drips from her tree ceiling, knowing all too well that she would not be able to sleep after all.
She hoped she wouldn’t catch a cold.
She kept her mind distracted by remembering the history books she had borrowed from the library of that town she left before and now going back towards it. She thought about what she learned about the winter storms of the islands.
Apparently, it would start small, but as the weeks’ progresses, the series of hurricanes would plague the island chain. That’s when the spirits of water and air would rise and do battle against each other. Hailstones were one of the signs that the air spirits had come.
Just her luck.
A freezing wind crept under her shelter and chilled her bones. Now seemed like a good time for a hot cup of chocolate. She felt she could really use one. Slowly, she rose from her curled position and reached for her large backpack.
In the inky darkness, she found the pocket where she kept several stones that glowed a white light when rubbed. Her hand found their smooth surface; her fingers pushed some of them around, making little knobby sounds as the stones hit against each other.
She found the biggest stone, a large round one covered in a fishnet sachet. Pinching it out of her pack, her fingers felt stiff with the cold, but her eyes rejoiced in the gentle burst of light the glow stone emitted.
It was bright enough for Ireulun to rummage through the rest of her things. She had to work quickly, the glowstones’ light were not substantial.
She took out a thermos cup and a brown ball of dried chocolate powder. She reached out to one of the flowing drips and caught some of the rain in her cup, her hand shivering with the cold.
Once her cup was full, she concentrated on using her magic to heat the water, chanting quietly to aid her concentration for evocation. She could have forgone the hot chocolate and just simply used the spell to heat her own body, but she wasn’t as good as that. She nearly had a heatstroke the first time she tried to heat her own blood.
Besides, she liked hot chocolate.
Slowly, steam rose from the heated water. Ireulun breathed in the rising warmth of air and letting it fill her lungs. Greedily, she drank before it was cool enough to drink so she scaled her tongue. In her jerk, she knocked the hand that held the cup against a protruding tree branch and the drink spilled to the ground.
She cursed, damning only herself. A sad waste of hot chocolate.
The hot chocolate was spilled on the hard, rocky floor of the shelter. It flowed downwards where gravity told it to flow. But Ireulun then noticed something strange. She watched her spilled drink, the flow suddenly started to reverse and then turn into a sharp angle.
She blinked, but there was no deception in her eyes. The tiny brown water trail flowed out of her woody refuge. Ireulun touched gingerly on the earthen floor. There were no protruding angles, no rock pockets, nothing to indicate that the stone had been in the way of the strange flowing chocolate water.
Her spilled drink flowed by itself.
Water was not supposed to do that, flowing against gravity was against nature. Unless magic was at work, all rules of nature applied.
Unless magic was at work...
She peeked out from her shelter and noticed for the first time that all the fallen rain, the tiny rivulets of water shifting and moving snake-like on the ground, was going in the same direction as her spilled drink. All water, even the rolling hailstones, was moving uphill.
Ireulun looked up and saw that the rains were falling naturally, down to earth, flying with the winds. But when it water hit the ground... Something big was at work that night.
Especially in the dark, stormy night.
She was never the one to shy away from strange phenomenon. After securing her cape, cloak and a thick muffler around her face, she left the protective shelter of her brush and tree bole and followed the flowing water.
The open night was still dark and dreary. She could barely see anything; her steps were guided only by the light of her large glowstone she kept close to her body.
The place she was hiking through was a rocky wasteland with rockier mountains on the horizon. The stony path she took was white, filled with shallow moving water and strangely, quite smooth. An old dried up river? Was that even possible, water regularly flowing upstream during the winter storms?
Eventually the rivulets became shallow streams, some soaked into her boots, the winds were as coldly fierce as ever. She kept away from the water, mindful of any possible torrents that might sweep her off her feet. That risky possibility and various others that might strike her gave she her caution.
But they did not stop her resolve.
Ireulun climbed an outcrop of rock to get out of the growing water and noticed the colour in the sky and on the horizon had changed. Shafts of dim light shade the distant mountains and dark red clouds covered the sky, scattered evidence of the night’s storm. Daylight was coming. The winds too had slowed. The rains had been reduced to a placid drizzle.
In what she had learned about the coming winter weather of the islands, dawn and sunset was the mildest time for the storms. She had planned to make most of her hike during those twilight hours.
She held her glowstone high above her head, trying to assess an overall view of her position. By the small light, she saw that the rock she stood on was just after the edge of a large basin of water. It was clear and cool, and eerily calm. A lake?
It was a lake. Large and green, surrounded by rocks and cliffs. It betrayed no indication of its depths; its silent stillness was eerie to look at.
Even if it were just a pool, this would have been a boon for the people of Crosswind Isles, as fresh water was hard to come-by, thought Ireulun. Why had they not taken advantage of this resource? Do they know it exist?
Her hood was still soaking wet. She took it off from her head and squeezed the water out, taking advantage of the quickly growing sunlight to dry her apparel. Drops of the squeezed water fell over the rock she stood on and splashed into the lake.
She watched the ripples on the water as she twisted her hood. The ripples caused by it were small but instead of dispersing, it grew larger and it gets further and further away from her.
More ripples formed and grew, until the lake was swirling and churning by some internal, moving force. Ireulun apprehensively bit her lip. Had she disturbed a sleeping giant? From the very center of the lake, a whirlpool formed.
It grew quickly, moving faster and faster like something had opened a plunger from the bottom of the lake. As the ring of the sun broke through from the thickening storm clouds, tinged blood red by the light, a massive shape began to take form in the heart of the whirlpool.
It took on a winged form, an iridescent bird made of ice and running water shook its white head clear from the whirlpool, scattering shining droplets everywhere. It was beautiful and magnificent to not stare. But Ireulun turned her eyes away as the sunlight fell on its crystalline body; the reflected light was too strong to see directly.
From the corner of her eye, She watched as the bird tested its wings. Every beat shook the waters of the lake even more. A gathering wind, peculiarly warm instead of cold, circled around the lake. The waves splashed noisily on the shore, some were as high as to push up against her ankles. She struggled to maintain standing on her rock.
The bird then took off into the sky like a graceful rocket, but it’s form grew less solid with every height it gained. Less visible. It was as if its feathers dissolved into steam with every flap of its diamond-like wings.
Ireulun watched in awe. The bird flew to the clouds; it’s form turning tiny against the rolling clouds and hot-red sky, before it disappeared. She looked back at the lake, or what’s left of the lake. The lake had reduced in size, greatly. It was much smaller than it was when she found it.
The once enormous lake, fueled by uphill flowing water, had turned into a pool no bigger than a duck-pond.
She climbed down the outcrop of rock and approached the site. The lost of water, what water taken by the flying spirit, had revealed something nestled between the rocks. In the edge of the pool, was a cavern. It was not a gaping mouth of hole on the rocks, but it was not a small crack either. Ireulun estimated that it was at least ten feet high and maybe fifteen feet wide.
And it was black. And dark. More so as it hid in the shadows of the mountains, the rising sunlight did not touch anywhere near the cave.
Ireulun held up her glowstone, still brightly lit, stretching it out in front of her, towards the cave. Trickles of water here and there curtained the cave, making small puddles that stream and snake in trails down to the pool.
She approached it carefully; wary of possibly any new spirits might turn up to surprise her. Her feet touched the edge of the pool.
Ireulun noticed another thing about the cave. Letterings, craved into some of the rocks, outside and around the cave. The alphabet looked familiar. Perhaps she could recognize the words?
Spurned by her curiosity, she approached the patterned rocks. She walked across the water; it slapped ripples around her feet.
What sounded like a breaking glass rang from underneath her. A fissure in the bed of the pond formed between her feet, sucking in the water.
She stopped cold. Inside her, she felt her stomach made an uncomfortable flip.
And with that great sound, the wet ground broke into shattering pieces and Ireulun felt into unearthly darkness.