A Strange Shore
Out on the dark swell of The Song Tide, I was, scouting for some choice fishing holes, when like a curse from the abyss, these new lands loomed out of the damned mist. These shores, never before touched by our lot, the Anthoran, they was home to them faefolk, them ancient, twisty creatures. I could feel their power, a force beyond my ken, gnawing at the edges of my mind, driving me back to the refuge of the Rusty Anchor Inn. I spilled my guts to the crowd, but they just howled, said it was nothin’ but a phantasm, a shroud thrown over my eyes. Now I reckon, was it all just a trick of the mind, or did them faefolk weave their web around my soul? Either way, mark my words, I’m gonna plunge right back into that dark mystery, soon as I rustle up a gang fool enough to join me in that haunting domain.
Maybe it was some crazy enchantment them faeries flung my way, ’cause here I am, day after day, drawn right back to them borders on my fishing jaunts. In these fog-choked mornings, I steer clear of the usual paths of them leviathan and kraken, paddlin’ right up to the very edge of the mist, squintin’ through to them shores where these massive plants loom. Can’t rightly say if they mean me harm or if they’re just mindin’ their own business, ’til I rustle up enough nerve to set foot on solid ground. This place, it’s like it got cut loose from the fabric of time, and I can feel that ancient magic still hummin’ strong, just like it did in the days ‘fore us Mortals came to rule.
The next morn, I awoke to the ruckus of the breakfast crowd below, their voices carrying tales of plundering and peril on the open seas.
We figured piracy was squashed and buried deep in The Long Sea, a thing of the distant past. But now there’s whisperings of fresh trouble stirrin’ ‘cross The Song Tide Archipelago. We ain’t never been big on privateers or no militia since them days we fought tooth and nail, carvin’ out our own slice of life amidst these islands, pushin’ back them barbarians, or so we learnt in the school. But now talk’s swirlin’ ’bout shoring up the defenses, keepin’ a watchful eye out for them Pirates, making sure our goods don’t go missin’ as they travel to and fro.
You wouldn’t believe it, but some of the young bloods in Bardtown done got swept up into their ranks. And get this, there’s talk goin’ ’round that they got their own secret settlement, some hidden haunt where they stock up and kick off wild brawls, all part of their reckless ways.
Keep your eyes peeled for them notices in the big towns ’round The Song Tide, ’cause there might just be a holler for folks to band together and defend our turf.
“See, with all these fresh colonists pourin’ in day by day, settin’ sail for them Outlands, it’s like a feast for them pirates,” Elmassod mused, his grizzled voice carrying the weight of years, as we sat across from each other at the Rusty Anchor Inn in Rothigport.
“Them newcomers, they’re criss-crossin’ The Long Sea in droves, almost as many as back in the days post-Exodus from them Central Kingdoms, after the Deluge, way back when. And them scurvy dogs, they got more easy targets than ever.”
Elmassod, he was right, no denying that. Considered the wisest soul in all of Rothigport, most folks looked up to him, respected him for steerin’ clear of the fracas of politics and the bickerin’ over the art of magery.
“These waters, they used to be calm as a slumberin’ babe,” I muttered.
“True enough, Bander,” Elmassod replied, his voice carryin’ a somber note. “But things, they’re shiftin’ on a scale that’s beyond my reckonin’.”
“Now, I wouldn’t go so far as to say them scoundrels of the seas got their own lair tucked away right here in Song Tide, despite all them whispers goin’ ’round,” Elmassod chuckled.
I laughed too, puttin’ my trust in Elmassod, even though more than a few seasoned captains had spoken to me ’bout the swift strikes of them pirates. They gotta be hidin’ somewhere, no doubt.
We both knocked back the last of our Orinsol ale, a local specialty, and steered our talk toward less prickly.
Elmassod, he was a deep thinker, no denying that. The more he knocked back, the more it seemed like he had the whole dang world tucked away in that noggin of his. Some folks ’round here, they called him the crazy old coot holed up in the corner of the Inn, always lookin’ to snag some fresh face into the tales of Rothigport, ’bout how his ancestors carved out this rugged patch of land back in the days when it was a battleground for Gods and Monsters.
He’d been ’round before the Exodus, seen it all, he had. Recalled when them Arch Mages staked their claim on Song Tide, makin’ it a sanctuary against the darkness creepin’ in from them Outlands, and against the chokehold them Central Kingdoms had on us.
Me and most others, we looked up to him, took him as a guide, ‘specially when it came to gettin’ a straight answer, ‘specially when we ventured beyond the realm of magery.
“Well, now, I ain’t got no quarrel with magic and whatnot,” he once confided in me, his voice carrying the weight of countless years. “Just never did find the time or the patience to go divin’ deep into them studies,” he added, a wistful note in his tone.
I took a likin’ to his unbiased perspective, ‘specially considerin’ how some folks ’round these parts, they put magery up on a pedestal, makin’ it out to be some kind of holy grail.
You got them old mages, they was all about doubling down on the power of magic in this here realm, holdin’ tight to the old ways. Then you got them new-fangled industrialists, turnin’ a blind eye to it all, puttin’ all their chips on merchants and the trades.
Me, I found myself caught in the crossfire of this whole debate. I respected the Elders, like Elmassod, for sure, but at the same time, I saw there was room for some growin’ with these fresh ways.
After all, we all know, it wasn’t just magery alone that brought down them Gods in that epic clash of the Great War of the Third Age.
Bardtown and Rothigport, they was ablaze with talk of piracy slitherin’ through the nooks and crannies of Song Tide, but Elmassod, well, he kept his cool, like always.
“These ain’t the ones we oughta be losin’ sleep over,” he’d say, his voice steady as the docks beneath us. “There’s darker things at play, from above and below.”
And I knew he spoke the truth, ’cause he was in tune with sources far wiser than the buzz bouncin’ around them Inns and markets.
“True indeed, their foothold’s growin’ stronger by the day,” he’d murmur, talkin’ ’bout Kraken’s Cay, that nest of buccaneers, sittin’ just southeast of Rothigport. “Why else would they be tryin’ to build themselves a home, if they didn’t wanna be part of us? All they want’s to be accepted.”
It made sense, really. Them top-notch captains, they knew how to give them sea scoundrels a wide berth, but them boundaries between ’em and the law-abidin’ folk, they was porous. Come nightfall, the most vicious captains would be jawin’ away in them taverns, while hapless travelers stumbled right into their lairs, with no one to turn to.
“We might just harness their ambitions when the real threats come knockin’,” Elmassod mused, his voice carryin’ a hint of somethin’ darker, somethin’ weighty.
Soon as my chat with Elmassod was over, I boarded the Tide Skipper, that ol’ ship docked in the harbor, set on makin’ my way to Bardtown. I had a hankerin’ to dive back into their libraries, needed to dig up more ’bout this realm of the Fae. Couldn’t go traipsin’ into that realm all green and clueless, after all, and the notion of unravellin’ the secrets of that ancient domain, well, it had me hooked.
Ain’t been to Bardtown more than a handful of times, mind you, and every trip before this one was all ’bout catchin’ one of them ditties spun by The Jolly Jongleurs, my favorite band. But this time ’round, I was on the hunt for one of their libraries, had my sights set on trackin’ down Gilderstilt, the keeper of tomes at the Hall of Glossolalia.
“We Song Tiders, we like to reckon we’re the oldest lot here on Deluvia,” Gilderstilt drawled, his eyes sharp as a hawk’s, seemin’ to look straight past me into some distant horizon. “But there’s depths much more ancient than us mortals’d ever dare to plumb,” he went on. “Three primal realms, still held by the Gods, stand untouched, even in this Age of Mortals. My old bones, they ache to set foot in them lands, commune with them ancient deities, and grasp their wisdom, to learn of the sprawling flora and fauna.”
He knew of them places, he did, but the particulars, they eluded him. Only the boldest of hunters and explorers, he told me, had the grit to plunge deep into them depths. Gilderstilt kept on, his voice steady as a winter’s night, “With them new heroic avatars makin’ themselves known, maybe one of ’em’ll find the courage or the curiosity to venture forth, to come back with knowledge to fill my tomes.”
“From what them scholars done penned down, there’s three vast domains, one of forests, one of frost, and one of fire, each ruled by a God wieldin’ that very elemental might. Yet no hero’s ever come back,” he added. It made me feel a pang of sorrow, knowin’ my own kind had met their end. But Gilderstilt, he assured me, them brave pioneers, they knew the dangers, even the risk of losin’ their own life, and they embraced it all the same. Made sense, it did.
The forestfolk and the faefolk, they seemed the friendliest bunch to approach first, least harsh on the senses, too. Frost and fire, well, that just weren’t sittin’ right with me at this stage of my trainin’. I figured, if I could gather me some herbs, bring ’em back to Yewestra, maybe that’d earn me a bit of her favor, get her to teach me a bit more.
Ain’t a soul ’round here’ll give my tales of the Land of the Faefolk the time of day. Heck, more often than not, I’m the butt of every joke, got the youth ’round here dreamin’ up wild fantasies. Can’t rightly blame ’em, though. I’m just a no-account service hand, doomed to mop up tables at the Rusty Anchor till the end of days. But the yarns spillin’ out from them travelers passin’ through our bustling port, they’re enough to make even the most grounded mortal yearn for treasures, for adventure, for a taste of that sweet nectar from the apple færies.
It was when Mister Dashwell, a regular guest here at the Inn, made his way down for his breakfast. Poured him his Chigweed Tea, handed him his Greenbriar Gazette, like always. He took a likin’ to me, seein’ me as this solitary figure with no real support or direction. Dashwell, he was a professor from the time before The Great War, back at the Academy of Xandrius in Pallamost, a city that got swallowed up by the Great Deluge. Dressed in his studious waistcoat, but nothin’ about him spoke of riches or possessions. After the War took his job, he turned into a wanderin’ tutor, and from the sound of his tales, a student of the Cosmos.
He was one of the precious few who didn’t scoff at my longin’ to set sail from these docks, head west into the unknown. Professor Dashwell, he was the one who led me to Gilderstilt and his Hall of Scribes over in Bardtown, knew he could swing open a good many doors for me. Thought Elmassod was just a blowhard, relishin’ in the tales of his glory days as a soldier in the War, he did.
I wrapped up my chores at the Inn and made my way to the north side of town for my nightly stargazin’, as was my custom. That’s when I spotted this glimmer on the horizon. The object, it was gettin’ closer, and soon enough, I could make out a longsea skiff runner tearin’ through the waters, smoke billowin’ out its hull. I scanned around, hopin’ someone else had their eyes peeled for this fast-approachin’ craft, ’bout to smash right into the shore. But I was too far out for most folks, them bein’ too spooked by the whispers of magical beasts lingerin’ ’round these parts, like them gazers or lizardfolk. Me, I knew better. This stretch of shore, it was as safe and private as they come.
As the skiff drew nearer, I hightailed it over to where it looked set to crash, and crash it did, right into a big ol’ rock. I scrambled over, thinkin’ there wasn’t a soul inside, only to see this furry hand pokin’ over the gunwale, and I tell ya, it gave me a right good fright. Turned out to be some old raccoon clan fella, all beat up, wearin’ scars like badges of honor, with a patch over one of his masked eyes. Hangin’ on to the frayed ends of his life, he was, needin’ a helpin’ hand. I hauled him outta that vessel of his, careful like, and dragged him up onto the shore. This salty seafarer, he was heavier than I reckoned, especially with all his gear.
Then, with one last burst of strength, he locked eyes with me, pulled my head close, and whispered, “He’s a comin’. Can ya hear ’em?”
He took a good, long look ’round, out over The Long Sea. I figured he must be talkin’ nonsense, delirious from all that blood loss. But he kept goin’, ramblin’ ’bout them fangs snarlin’, them claws snappin’ like the devil hisself. “Let me patch up that noggin of yours,” I offered to the poor soul. But he went on, “He’s after Razgrol’s map, that fiendish brigand and his pack of cuthroats.” His voice trailed off, and then he started chokin’, clutchin’ at his throat, coughin’ up blood afore fallin’ off the rock I’d propped him on.
I knew I had to get him to a healer back in town, so I lent him a hand, hauled him up. Ms. Tukkins, she was my boss, the one who ran The Rusty Anchor. She’d be able to help. Dragged him down the beach, found us a less noticeable route, hopped into a tiny dinghy tucked under the docks, and paddled us back to the main harbor. Brought Razgrol, right into the Inn, sneaked him in through the delivery hatch, to keep folks from prying. Knew most of them secret passages crisscrossin’ through town. Up the back stairs to the kitchen, where Ms. Tukkins was still tidying up from the last round of drinks. She was rightly taken aback, seein’ me pulling in this bedraggled, ancient figure into her place. But she trusted me, and she hustled right up to tend to his wounds.
Razgrol, he shook off his stupor for a moment, croakin’ to me, “Me satchel, lad,” diggin’ deep in his threadbare coat. I helped him fish out this weathered leather bag, passed it on to him. “He’ll be comin’ soon,” he went on, clutchin’ that satchel to his chest. “Cannot let ’em find this.” And then, he seized my shirt, mustered up one last burst of strength, and drew me close, nose to nose, and he muttered, “The Necromancer. . . Beware the Necromancer. . .” With that, he slumped down, off to the great beyond, with a long, drawn-out groan. Them final words, they sent a cold tremor right through me. Sure, there was plenty of magic ’round these parts, both the good kind and the evil, but a necromancer? Did them even exist, I found myself wonderin’. Razgrol, I reckon, was gone.
Dashwell burst into the room all of a sudden, wearin’ that same worrisome expression he’d had since mornin’. His eyes fell on the bandit sprawled out on the floor, and he moved in quick to lend a hand. “Ma’am,” he whispered, soundin’ mighty distressed, “there exists a warship sighted along the seamark, with intentions of docking at Rothigport. It is prudent to be apprised of this development, as its arrival may potentially disrupt the tranquility of our establishment.” Tukkins nodded at him, and Dashwell confirmed what we’d already suspected: our newfound friend had breathed his last.
Together, we hoisted him back down to the dinghy, aimin’ to find a proper spot to lay him to rest. Once we got to the shore, I caught sight of the ship Dashwell’d been yappin’ about. It was a real monster of a vessel, loomin’ and forebodin’, makin’ its way closer and closer. I wasted no time in takin’ Razgrol back to where I’d found him. Couldn’t help but snatch up his satchel on the way; it was clear it held some value, and it wouldn’t do no good bein’ buried out at sea.
Placed his body back in his skiff, turned it ’round, and engaged the mist ginny to guide him back out to the waters he’d come from.