I ought never to have accepted the bravery of Kut. It ought to have been me in his place. I make this statement now as I have made it before the Authorities. It is a Mark forever against me.
Brendar and myself ran until exhausted. I fear we made a lot of noise, for we were tired and hungry. In the distance we could hear the shouting of the Gaalian dance absorb any sounds of a struggle.
–Do not stop, even for a moment.—warned Brendar.—the weed does not make them tire as it does us, and we need all that time can give us.—
Brendar ran more quickly, and I struggled to keep pace. Water Tamvaasa are not like our Folkin of the land and lakes in this matter of fleetness of foot.
Soon the sounds disappeared and all that could be espied was the flickering of light on the far away steles.
Our plan, such as we had one, was to flee to the Hal and bring her out into the water where it would be hard to find us or know wither we had gone.
But something seemed odd to me, and I said it to Brendar.
–They are not following us.—
It was a point difficult to deny, and we could not decide whether to be relieved or even more concerned.
Then we learned why.
The ground began to shake beneath us. Rocks jostled out of place as they rattled. Sensing the trouble. I dove away just as the hungry head of a big, tentacled worm exploded from the ground.
Describing these awful creatures is not too difficult, for they resemble the harmless worms of the long North, the food of skylings and the slinking creatures. But these are much, much bigger, endowed with the sharp teeth of meateaters with thick tentacles, good for propelling them through the sand. Even brave Balwyn of old would have had trouble handling a worm of the Long South!
Quickly did we run, hoping that we could get out of the beast’s way before meeting a terrible fate.
Brendar ran sideways, leaving an unpredictable path, and I did the same. This succeeded in tricking the beast, who appeared where his senses said we would be, and were not.
But the beast was quicker than we could have imagined, ploughing underearth like a fleet watercreature. Before we had gone far, he had surfaced ahead of our path, tentacles twitching excitedly for his meal…
…perhaps I am growing too vigorous in my tale. A good tale always got the bloodcraze started, and so I feel it now.
I remember every detail of the battle. How Brendar and myself took anything we could for a weapon, throwing stones as missiles, but mostly fleeing the creature by running with all the strength left to us.
It was exceedingly dark in that land without Gaal, but from the small twinkling of the lesser lights, we espied a small stele jutting up from the surface. We hastened towards this pillar of rock, hoping it could save us from the worm’s attacks.
I was seeing two rocks by the time I reached it. My inner wind came in heaves. But the thought of a trip through that worm’s stomach gave me strength to hurl Brendar up to the top, there being no other way to reach it. I jumped and grasped his outstretched hands just as the worm surfaced beneath me.
All throughout that darkness we battled. I had a dagger enhand with which to slice at the creature who stretched as far it dared out of its hole to grasp at us. The stele contained some property—whether by the Authorities or some property natural to its making—that the worm did not like, for it would not touch it.
This is what kept us from death that night, though indeed I lost the dagger by an ill judged strike at the creature’s mouth. Such a pain it was when the creature caught my arm. Some dread poison was imparted to me from that mouth, for I grew weak, and Brendar had to hold me up.
Gaal rose, and we espied from afar clouds of dust. It was a returning group of Gaalians. They came quite near to us, and, to our surprise, the worm did not turn aside to pursue this new prey.
I later learned there was a salt road laid out to that worshipplace which protected any traveller from the perils of the worms. Salt is what the worms cannot touch, lest it perish.
When we escaped, we had not been more than a length away from safety all the while.
From this safe position, the Gaalians began to lay missiles at the worm. Eventually they pierced its soft throbbing skin, causing it to fall from its high arched attack position, twitching and writhing in pain. It was obvious the worm was on its last wander. We were saved.
When the creature stopped its deathshrieks, the Gaalians neared us, peering in astonishment at what they saw.
They brought us down, weak and wounded, and marched us straight back to Tu’Vrahadith. However I collapsed somewhere on the road and do not remember the journey.
When I awoke it was to find my arm wrapped in a bandage, cool water drenching my burnt face and a crowd of Gaalians examining me for signs of life.
I looked frantically around for Brendar, but could not find him. Calling his name, I heard no response.
The doctors grabbed my limbs and held me in place. One spoke to me softly, in Gaalian.
–rest easy Shadowman, the other ones are alive and safe. You nearly died from the Vrahadith poison, and moving too much now may cause it to finish you. So stay still and let us finish.—
I followed his orders, seeing for the first time that my chest was cut open, oozing out all manner of blood and a greenish liquid.
In all honesty, the sight caused me to lose consciousness.
I may have slept for several passages of Gaal, for when next I became aware, it was to find myself lying in an empty room, except for one guardian Gaalian maid. My chest was sewn back together, but my inner wind came with pain. Bones were all that was left of my former strength.
It is difficult to enword all the changes that happened to that city and people in this time. No sane or sober mind would have accepted it. But the minds of the Gaalians were neither sane, nor sober—thanks to Aflatan.
I later pieced most of this together, so do not think it was all clear to me at the time. It was not.
The entire population of Gaalians had come under Aflatan’s control. They went where he bid, returned when he bid, gave him all he asked. The Gaalians lived at such a frenzied pace that they did not realize this. For, in many ways, nothing seemed to have changed.
Many who might have countered the changes were no longer living. Since Aflatan’s Great Dance in the holy place, none of the former council were to be found. The same could be said for many of the older Gaalians and some of their offspring. I do not think they were missed.
Whether a ceremony recognizing their loss ever occurred while I was asleeping, I do not know. But I think not. Aflatan had grasped control so completely and so easily, it made one marvel—but it was all thanks to the purple weed.
The stink of the stuff was everywhere. In clothes and food, in the smoke from the nightly firedances outside of the settlement. Gaalian’s fingers and lips had become stained in it. Their feverish and wondering eyes watered with it.
The town had lost an interest in sleeping it seemed. In those first absences of Gaal I was conscious, I marvelled at how quiet everything was. As soon as I was hail enough to walk outside my muddie prison, I noticed the smoke and lights of great communal firedances just outside of the city. These lasted until the arrival of Gaal, and often a little longer than that.
None of my fellows from the Long North seemed anywhere within reach, and my brief trips outside were immediately cut short by my stern nurse Gaalian maid. She was a particularly pretty example of the Long Southerner, but also strong and wilful, requiring me by force to do as she pleased. I my weakened state, she was as strong as me.
To my surprise, I was not forced to take the weed, and my guardian seemed to spend less time with it than most. I never knew precisely why.
Passage by passage I grew back my working strength. I became restless and engaged in the first of many struggles with my guardian over privileges. But she was sturdy in her silence and refused to answer any of my questions.
In truth I do not think she knew much. Nobody did in those heady days.
Early in Gaal’s passage, out of the frantic noise that had become the streets of Tu’Vrahadith came Aflatan to the entrance of my muddie. He shone with a brilliance I had never before seen, dressed in a suit of golden armour that glowed and shimmered in the reflection of Gaal. He was flanked by several Gaalian dancers who I immediately recognized from the plentiful lands. They too were dressed in marvellous suits, but they served only to reflect the glory of Aflatan.
–It is brave Jonderen, who fought a Vrahadith!—he spoke in high spirits in my native tongue.
–You have been busy.— I said to him in response.
–There is much to be done.—replied Aflatan, and he handed my Gaalian nurse a pouch, which she took and promptly departed with.
–You must have learned by now that the Long South is a dangerous place.—continued Aflatan.—you are exceedingly fortunate that Atash has kept you mostly whole.—
I nodded at this, aware that something was about to happen next.
It did. Aflatan offered to have me honoured and placed forever by his side. He spoke of the glory that would be at my feet, the pleasure we would bring to the Authorities. He said many things in a rapid way, but all the while his unblinking eyes watched me to espy my reaction.
–I don’t suppose you could tell me what has befell my Folkin? Or our watercraft?—I remember asking, when at last he had stopped.
–Has none of what I just enworded interested you?—
–It is a matter of priorities.—I replied.—you cannot assume I will enter any kind of agreement before knowing how my Folkin, or our watercraft, faire.—
Aflatan said nothing for a brief moment, but I could tell that his frantic mind was already far away.
–They volunteered to return to the land of plenty we discovered.—he eventually said.—and if it is your desire to see your Folkin, then I will arrange for you to go with the next Waterbeast that departs for there. Your own Waterbeast already took them.—
Immediately I relaxed and agreed to this, thanking Aflatan for his kind thoughts just the same though wondering as to why they should leave me behind. But I had no way of knowing all that had occurred in the time I slept, or if they had thought me passed. Perhaps all of the concern that had amassed inside of me was a phantom. After all, I had been treated well by the Gaalians, they had saved my life.
Little did I understand what was to befell me next…