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The Old Waters

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1 The Old Waters on Sun Jun 21, 2015 8:07 pm

RIVER RISKVANK - THE EASTERN SHATTERLANDS

A forty-foot longboat sailed slowly against the river’s current, and the men aboard scanned the thickly wooded shores with wary eyes. Bedecked with roundshields of black and green and headed by a carved four-eyed dragon, the longboat was a fearsome, swift raiding vessel, and the warriors aboard were likewise, garbed in mail and fur with axes and long-daggers at their belts. Their holds were full of plundered bounty, pried by blade and fist from slain menfolk amid the chaos of the third year of the Red War between the kings of the Shatterlands.

But it was not from reprisal from those they’d raided that the warriors were watching the shores. This river, Riskvank, they had learned of during their time a’raiding, and it had seemed to hold promise to escape the looming battles swarming around the keeps on the other major rivers snaking through the Shatterlands. And bound by thick blackwood forests on both sides for miles and miles, it seemed almost perfectly isolated and remote despite being so close to population centers.

And that had the warriors, superstitious men who feared and homaged dutifully to the Spirits Many, thinking on the hushed tones the river had been spoken of, of the fear they’d heard in the tell-tale voices. Such a river, a hundred yards across and deeper than their longboat’s length, should not be so isolated, their instincts insisted.

One of their number, however, was less easily cowed than the others. A titan of a warrior, tall and broad, who bore a bearded axe with one hand where most men would struggle with two, he had slain a dozen armsmen in the raid without even gaining another scar to add to his prestigious collection. And so he scowled at the others, barking orders and insults, grinning like a wolf at the sheepish expressions he saw in return. Hardened men of the salt, indeed.

Another, more cowardly perhaps, or more enlightened to the darkness of the world perhaps, flinched from another guttural jibe, and muttered curses under his breath as he adjusted the sails. He cast a glare at the giant warrior when he thought the other man wasn’t looking…

His eyes went wide as the warrior suddenly jerked backwards and fell with a startled shout. He heard the splash and shout, but his attention was taken up by the apparition he saw behind where the warrior had been, a silvery-skinned man with huge, black eyes -- gone as soon as he blinked.

He shouted, frantically waving the others to where the other warrior had fallen. They rushed forward, blades rasping on leather as axe and sword were freed. One grabbed a rope and leaned over the railing to throw it to their fellow, only to halt in confusion.

No sign remained of the warrior beyond the rippling remnants of the impact. Another raider expressed his disbelief: the water couldn’t just swallow a man like that without a struggle.

A third leaned over, movement catching his eye. He narrowed his gaze, trying to decipher what he’d seen below the surface. Some silver thing, moving deep in the murky water.

He had only a moment to realize it was growing closer before the surface exploded and a dagger speared him up through the jaw and powerful silvery arms pulled him, already dead, over the edge.

The other men cried out and fell back, only to scream as the rearmost among them encountered more silver arms and blades. The spirit-minding coward fell from his feet and scrambled back, eyes bulging out of his skull as he saw his comrades fall.

A shadow fell across him and he looked up just in time to see a silvery-skinned man pulling himself smoothly over the longboat’s wall, except that where the naked body should’ve become manhood and split into legs there was a trio of lumps smooth against a sinuous, serpentine tail studded with spiny fins and shimmering snakelike scales. The raider saw one of his compatriots, more composed than most in the face of such monsters, turn and raise his axe, only for the silver thing to roll forward far faster than it had any right to and sweep its powerful tail through the man’s legs. Even over the cries of the dying, he could hear the man’s knee snap from the blow, and the silver snake-man was on him in an instant, all smooth movement and predatory speed...barely did he pause before moving to the next man, leaving the axeman’s throat opened and gushing.

The spirit-minded raider saw another of the silver creatures, this one with the form of a beautiful woman, swing nimbly over the edge of the boat and pause, surveying the carnage that was rapidly coming to a close. Her kind was simply too swift and shocking for the raiders, whose armor did nothing to stop the slender daggers and whose prowess with their arms did little to prepare them for foes that stayed low and moved faster than foxes.

Then her eyes, dark things with barely visible rings of deep red, locked on his. He could scarecely move, only take in the monster’s arrowhead face, the softly flapping gills at her neck and ribs, and the long, spinelike dagger in her webbed fist. His bladder failed him without his notice, and it was only the faint twitch of some expression in her hauntingly beautiful, alien face that startled him enough to action.

He closed his eyes, and silently tried to force shaking lips to make peace with the gods.



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
“You left him alive. Why?”

The question, carried with the melodic, whealing clicks and pulses of their tongue, was accompanied by a spike of current, hot rain flowing over Deepsong’s skin. Electrosense, amperes detected by tiny pores running along her -- and all her kind’s -- cheeks, neck, shoulders, chest, back, and flanks, detected the electric buzz of life from all six of her fellows as they watched the underside of the boat continue on the river. It also detected the schools of small fish, one massive, undulating cloud of faint static, up-river, the catfish twice as big as she was below them, oblivious to the bloodshed above.

And the nearly-extinguished current of the dying raider they’d drowned; so quick had their assault been that he had only just stopped struggling by the time they’d been forced back into the water.

It carried information that could only be hinted at in tone and inflection of their underwater language, and she knew that just as she was sensing Tidebreak’s suspicious anger, he would be sensing the way she bristled at him.

And that the whole group would sense it likewise, their energies pulsing and thrumming as they tried to keep a respectful stoicism.

Deep turned from the view of the boat and faced Tide directly. “A ship of dead men tells a warning only so far,” she replied. “One fearful man, uttering the names of the gods of land, will spread it much further. And the land must remember.”

Tide narrowed his eyes, his gills pulsing as he prepared to speak again. Deep glared sharply at him, and the intensity of her anger-pulse made him flinch and think better. He’s young, she reminded herself. He’ll learn.

She glanced at the rest of her party. Most had returned their spikes, dagger-like weapons crafted from bones of various fish, to the slim belt that constituted their only clothing, ready to return. They were all young, she realized. And so was she. Only she and one other bore any of the proper ceremonial scars and inkings indicating proven adulthood and service to their tribe.

But this Red War on the surface was driving the land people to forget the old treaties and agreements that governed the Old Waters.

Deep jerked her head and kicked with her tail, her powerful physique honed by a lifetime of swimming and intense training to a level of speed and strength no land person could hope to achieve, and the other People of the Old Water followed dutifully behind her.

The Land would remember indeed.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~

[Just something that's been itching in my head for a few weeks. If anyone likes it, I might expand on the idea in one way or another. I love merfolk, and have been itching on doing something with them for a long, long time.

Feel free to leave thoughts or comments here. If I do more with this, it'll probably be rewritten anyway.]


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2 Re: The Old Waters on Mon Jun 22, 2015 4:05 pm

I like it so far. Deepsong seems like a strong character. I would happily read more.


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3 Re: The Old Waters on Tue Jun 23, 2015 11:21 pm

So, I've been doing a ton of work on this thing, mostly background setting stuff. I might rewrite this or work up a completely new opener, since starting with humans didn't really get the concept across that I wanted...and I'm still undecided on the broad tech level for the Landers.

Though if anyone's curious about my worldbuilding process, I suppose I could post that here. I dunno, just trying to keep this board's pulse beeping.


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