The night was cold but the fire was warm when Kalia planted herself on a log stump to hear her favourite story: the Sailor's tale.
“Please, Tobias! I love your stories! You know I love them! Can you tell me the special one, please?" she implored anxiously. She needed a story, and her uncle knew she wouldn’t go to sleep without one. "The one about adventure... oh and magic! And cunning!" she beamed, having only learned the word a few days prior.
“Yes, of course, you can have a story,” Tobias said, tousling her hair as he stoked the fire with more kindling. She giggled and sat on the tree stump opposite to him, with the fire crackling and popping between them. With a swig from his leather costrel and a great declaration from his throat, Tobias began:
“Once upon a time…
8 Years Ago…
It was a quiet day at sea - albeit a little cold - which seemed rather like a slap in the face to Tobias. No winds had come to pick up the sails. Nothing churned the oceans waters or rippled on the surface. The sky hung above, a grey slab of neverending clouds and Tobias was the only sailor on deck. The ship was at a standstill near the Leodisian coast.
The Gentani Sea, famous for its scant sunny days and flash-whirlpools was completely empty, void of life. Void of action. One would usually pray their thanks to the gods for pleasant faring, but Tobias only furrowed his brow profusely: he'd been hoping for something to occupy his time with other than cooking, cleaning or rigging sails... His wife would have scolded him for thinking such dangerous things. After all, she was with a child. But even so: was a little wind and rain too much to ask for? Perhaps he could go back to writing letters in his study if nothing else came to mind.
The captain's study. Now that, he liked.
He murmured an old sea shanty to himself as the bitter cold set into his skin. The tune was broken and discordant in his breath, but he hummed on still.
In the corner of his eye - barely a needle's width - something appeared on the horizon. It was small and dark. A thunder cloud? Tobias furrowed his brow and scrutinised, thought nothing of it, returned to his crooked tune.
"A little wind, a little storm, perhaps a parcel of waves. When do I get to see a little action?” said Tobias to himself, staring fondly at The Far Beyond in the North, and the scattered islands of Sin Suki to the west. “Perhaps if I jump overboard, it'd liven up the mood...” Tobias mumbled sluggishly as he served his way toward the deposited gangplank. But before he had made even three steps, a familiar voice cut through the suffocating silence.
“What did you think you were signing up for? Halbera's camp?” the voice from behind replied. It was Michel, Mage, assistant to the High Warden Jakir, servant to Prince Sebastian and his Royal Guard. And a friend.
Tobias turned around and embraced the man. A broad smile, not frequently shown, etched across his stubbled face.
“How have you been, brother?” Tobias asked in a half-chuckle, looking his friend up and down. Michael waved his hand in the air as if casting a charm over himself. He quickly responded with, “All has been well at the castle. I just thought I might take a day off to see you...” Michael looked around, a little perplexed. "Wherever exactly are we?"
Tobias wore a hearty grin on his face. Michael looked on in mild confusion. “Brothers by blood…” Tobias began. Michael stared at him pondering. Then he decided to kindle his inner child.
Michael recited some of the next verse, “As connected as the stars… brothers by the blood that forged this bond, may this cord that has laced our lives together never be broken... two little mice - cold and bruised, but kicking - from our past lives and into the next… brothers together, brothers always,” Michael declared, his eyes solemnly held shut.
Tobias burst out laughing and pat him on the back with the force of two friends, after years apart, finally honouring their promise to each other. Then, the two shook hands and began talking about the sea, about Agrepiemi - their home - about what they would do after the war was over. Tobias was hoping to come back to his Nia and take her to their favourite spot on the ridge: there a pond stood, with a cute little pier, and a cascade that would send rose lilies surging down and submerging in the lower pool. Michael planned on finishing his studies of prestidigitation of Ethos and move on to elemental manipulation. Both of them stood and reminisced with gaudy grins and chests full of ale, bread and pleasant sighs...
But neither of them was thinking about the dark cloud on the horizon.
The cloud, dark and jaded in the overcast midday, had more than doubled in size over the last ten minutes. And it was moving. Fast. It soared across the surface of the water in slithering tendrils, like rivulets of a violent, poisonous gas. Faster than a winged horse, it faltered and dispersed a mist of grey and black and green crackling thunder. The storm began to envelop the Islands of Sin Suki. It was alive. Michael and Tobias stood on deck, too engrossed in conversation to even notice the catalyst for a global atrocity that would ravage the world like nothing ever witnessed in recorded history embank the Sin Suki archipelago. Not that they could do anything to stop it anyway. The storm rose on the Island of Tini, like a cobra, elongating its flaps into a menacing hood, ready to strike at any moment.
It descended on the Island in a thundering wave, sending meters-tall ripples across the Gentani Ocean.
Tobias heard the tremulous crash of waves against a seawall, and of falling rock and debris. He turned. Half of Sin Suki was submerged! Michael inquired his gaze, looked on in confusion, and put a hand to his mouth, failing to stifle his utter horror.
A wave came upon the bow of the boat. Michael was in a freeze, unable to move. His impending doom came crashing towards him. Tobias was steeled enough from years of experience and ran towards a spool of nautical cable. He practically lunged at it and seized it in his grasp. He then quickly bounded towards Michael, who was coming to his senses and started tying a knot in the rope to put around him. But Michael had already performed a charm to summon a rope around himself. Tobias quickly began tying the rope around himself instead.
“Quas'qua ri, saqua-cadi nei,” Michael commanded. The wave faltered, but the cloud, submerged and manipulating the ocean urged the monsoon on, further and further, higher and higher. When the wave finally hit its peak, it stood a mass of over 30 metres tall.
The snake flapped its hood. The wave fixed its jaw. And like the unfortunate Islands of Sin Suki, it came crashing down. The mast was the first thing to go, then the slender front of the ship. The storm broke the bow like the wooden planks were mere splinters. The middle of the ship ruptured upwards and exploded with a terrible, scalding, acidic sea spray; melting away the fibres in the planks.
Everything that the foam touched began to disintegrate. Shafts of wood and rope lay sprawled along the deck, reanimated by the ungodly liveliness of the sea. Michael, who was a metre in the air, continued to recant the charm, again and again, trying to seize command of the waves. But to no avail, the tidal wave came, again and again, bombarding against the side of the boat. Tobias was holding on for dear life, trying not to be knocked off the boat by the terrible waves. A second wave, slightly smaller than the primary wave, came along the stern of the ship.
The ocean battered the Seafarer left and right, unyielding in its hunger for destruction. The second wave was faster than the first one. It smacked the back of the ship, and Tobias felt the craft lurch up into the air, out of the water. Seeing that his words had no effect on the tempest waters, Michael tried a different approach. Instead of sailing the broken ship to safety, he would fly the boat to it.
He closed his eyes, tried to keep balance, and whistled in a breath.
Then in perfect Non-Ti pronunciation, he boomed, through the chaos of the ravaging waves: “Sei-da, lia hu, qua ba! Sei-Da! Da qua day ba." Suddenly, the ship stiffened and became perfectly stationary. It rose ferociously into the air as the waters settled gently and the storm dispersed. The sea dripped from under the boats melted hull. All of the crew - Tobias' crew - were gone, drowned by the waves or dissolved into tiny pieces. Tobias fought back bile at the thought of which fate was mercy. His family of cooks, navigators, musicians and beautiful exotic women was gone.
Michael was immersed in a bubble of some reflective liquid that Tobias could only assume was Ethos. He reached out, but Michael stopped him.
“This bubble is only tactile on the inside, and is designed to violently react to the oils of most things it comes into contact with. If you touch it, you will burn. But I can make you one. Give me time, and all can be done,” Michael said, already at work. Tobias tried to help but he didn’t know how to, aimlessly looking overboard to ensure they weren't being pursued. The ocean was uncannily calm, calm as but an hour ago when Tobias begged for a little action. The gods torment my selfish wishes with death and horror. Michael finished distorting the shape of a liquid that he poured from a vial. He warped and twisted the bubble to check its strength. It glimmered with magical Ethos and opened, inviting Tobias to step inside. Tobias moved quickly and the seal was redone. They flew away from the ship as Michael relinquished the last shred of power holding the Seafarer in the air. It plummeted to sea level and sank with a groggy burble of bubbles and smoke. The Seafarer sank dejectedly to the murky floor of the Gentani sea.
Swathes of flotsam rose to the surface, dissolving into nothing. Tobias couldn't bear to look another second, but couldn't find the strength to look away. He floated away, unable to make sense of whatever just happened. It was his first ship that he managed. That he felt he belonged to. His crew of drunken mercenaries and sailors alike were his friends, and in time, they had become more.
But now they lay in watery graves, no voice to tell the tale of their gratuitous deaths, but Michael's and his own. It might not have been the death they wished for -they all swore to be scraping their teeth with gold toothpicks and eating before they died- but at least they were now at peace. Michael saw Tobias' despair and floated closer to him.
"It's ok, Tobias. We can get through this," he said comfortingly. Tobias nodded, wiping a tear from his eye. Then the bubble popped.
The wind rushed past Tobais' hair.
His stomach surged
Then everything went dark.