alsoquin The funeral completed and Calibration due to begin the next day, the Western Circle readies for their departure, Imrama -- one of him, anyway -- on hand to accompany them. Saraj seems in reasonably good spirits even as the rest of the group seems somewhat down, (...)
alsoquin and he leads on as the group marches north along the river. "Just a little further! Keep those legs moving!"
Imrama keeps pace with Saraj, attempting to match his buoyant personality. "Where, exactly are we going Captain, if I may ask?"
alsoquin The captain grins. "We parked our ship up here."
alsoquin Saraya grumbles from near the back of the group. "Imrama has a ship. Why couldn't we have taken his ship to get to our ship?", a question that Saraj gleefully ignores.
Imrama "Its sound policy to stretch the land-legs from time to time, Saraya - I'm enjoying this constitutional myself. I've had little opportunity to explore the Sunlands, other than from above."
alsoquin Saraj nods. "See? He's got the right attitude. You can't let yourselves get spoiled." He looks around, as the trees thin a little and a portion of the river juts off into a small lake. "Ah, here we go." However: no ship is visible upon the lake.
Imrama watches the lake waters with interest.
alsoquin When everyone's arrived, Saraj takes a moment to look around and verify that no one else is anywhere nearby. Then, he pulls from around his neck a gossamer whistle in the shape of a koi fish, and blows out a strange, watery note. (...)
alsoquin For a moment, nothing happens, and then, the water begins to stir, bubbles and ripples striking the surface from somewhere far below. (...)
alsoquin Suddenly, something huge and thrashing breaks the surface in a shower of water droplets and reddish-gold light.
alsoquin When the water clears, Imrama gets a good look at it: like a great brigantine, but alive, covered in impossibly lustrous fish-scales, with great expressive eyes upon the front and vast, delicate butterfly fins -- including two that form the sails. (...)
alsoquin Imrama's glasses read off the creature's names to him... Nereshkitalovaja, Shui of the Nine Waters, Deepest Longings of the Foundered Mariner.
alsoquin Saraj walks over into the shallows and reaches out to pet the ship-being's snout affectionately.
Imrama stares at the fish-ship with wide eyes, his mouth slightly agape. "What a wonderous being. Nereshkitalovaja acts as your conveyance then? What an honor for your Circle."
alsoquin Saraj nods and speaks with quite visible fondness of the fish-vessel. "She's a good ship."
alsoquin The other Solars begin to board the vessel, climbing up one of the vast fins onto Shui's back, and after a moment longer Saraj follows, beckoning for Imrama to join them.
Imrama walks across the surface of the water to where the others have boarded and reaches out a hand to lightly touch the Shui's scales, asking it without words for permission to come aboard.
alsoquin The answer comes over him in an unusual form, a rush of pure emotion and visceral sensory experience that bypasses all human language, as Shui welcomes him aboard.
Imrama "Many thanks, honorable fish." Imrama climbs aboard the ship with grace and care. Once on deck, his childlike joy is apparent on his face.
alsoquin Once everyone has climbed aboard, Saraj wastes no time in setting sail. With a gentle touch upon the great bone crest that rises up from the "deck," he brings the ship into a state of swift movement, its fins catching at the air and its tail moving rapidly within the water,
alsoquin as streaks of gold and red Essence spin off into the air and water in a magical wake behind them.
alsoquin "Next stop, Gemeldan," the captain announces, primarily for Imrama's benefit.
alsoquin The ship seems to glide effortlessly through the river at a truly immense speed. "We'll be taking the Red Current once we hit the sea," he adds, turning to Imrama. "You, ah, may want to close your eyes for that."
Imrama Drenched in wonder, Imrama turns to Saraj. "Well, if it is what is done."
alsoquin The vessel speeds out of the mouth of the river into the open sea, and Saraj looks rather seriously at everyone as he mimes an eye-shutting gesture.
alsoquin Once the crew are ready, Imrama hears the ship make a strange, burbly fish noise, and after that, a great splash.... and something, almost but not quite like water, quite warm to the touch, seems to surround him, though he can still breathe.
alsoquin Nothing seems to happen at first, but then, the sounds begin -- low moans, first, and then, higher pitched wails and harsh keening sounds... and as they grow louder, in the background, two other sounds begin to appear: the buzzing of insects, and the wet, messy gnashing of teeth.
alsoquin It lasts only a few minutes, and then, quite quickly, the feeling drains away, and Imrama feels the dry heat of the setting sun upon his skin, and the sound of circling gulls.
Imrama opens his mouth tentatively to speak, testing it at first in case any of whatever that was a moment ago might get in. "Is it...safe to open my eyes now?"
alsoquin Saraj laughs. "Go right ahead!"
Imrama opens his eyes, braced for the possibility of seeing terrible, terrible things. "What? Where? What was that?"
alsoquin Instead of horrible things, only a peaceful, serene sea, with a well-settled island a short distance off towards 2 o'clock, greets Imrama.
alsoquin "That was the Red Current," Revan says in his rough voice from elsewhere on the boat. "Your eyes are how it gets inside to eat your soul."
alsoquin Saraj, meanwhile, directs the boat into the harbor of Gemeldan, its seven-ridged buildings of black stone rising in geometric elegance from the sand-covered rock of the island itself.
Imrama "Something demonic then?" Imrama asks, half muttering, as he gazes up at the wonderous strangeness of Gemeldan. "Please forgive the questions; I am ill-trained in the secrets of the West."
alsoquin Vasha leaps from the boat with an effortless gesture and, landing on a raised rock outcropping next to the tiny bay, throws over a rope ladder that Saraj ties to a bone outcropping on the deck. "Yes, something demonic. We have not sought to learn much more than that."
Imrama shudders just slightly. "I can see the wisdom in that choice." Imrama walks across the open air to the outcropping.
alsoquin As the group takes to the shore, Saraya departs without saying a word, and walks off into the twisting streets of the city; Vasha makes a bit of a face but then turns away to busy himself with something else.
alsoquin A moment later, Bitter Elm turns around and gestures with her head to some point in the distance, and Saraj nods; she utters a quick "I will see you again tomorrow, Imrama, welcome to Gemeldan" and turns away again as Revan makes a brief waving gesture.
Imrama nods. "I will look for you tomorrow then." He watches them depart with a strong but slightly lonely look.
alsoquin Saraj laughs. "It's that time again, boys," and Vasha and Revan both nod seriously.
Imrama "Time for what?" Imrama asks, ever the straight-man.
alsoquin "Time for a few rounds at the Fog's End," Saraj says. "On you, of course."
alsoquin Revan follows up: "We always go." A pause, then: "When we go off on a mission where we might die."
Imrama "Well then, we must honor tradition." Imrama produces a small pouch from the inside of his coat. "And I've a bit of Faerie gold here to see that we'll honor it quite well indeed."
alsoquin Saraj laughs again. "I'll lead on, then!"
Imrama "By all means."
alsoquin The men track through the oddly connected streets and improbable alleyways, until finally they come around a corner. Upon the unspeakable front of a single black building hangs an extremely mundane sign: the words "Fog's End," written in garish green on faded wood,
alsoquin and in a quadri-triangular doorway, a set of extremely mundane tavern doors hang.
alsoquin Saraj walks up and throws them open with a swagger, and saunters -- past the collection of rather unruly and questionable characters within who nod and laugh at him -- immediately over to the bar, where a a grizzled and bald Water aspect nods to him with a grin.
alsoquin Vasha and Revan each take seats at the bar as Saraj orders great steins of ale for everyone, and Vasha pulls out the tiny glass stone he had begun to show off before, offering it once again to Imrama.
Imrama enters the bar with his companions, sits down beside them, and once again turns his attention to Vasha's stone.
alsoquin "Take a look into it. Hold it right up to your eye."
Imrama takes the offered stone in one hand and removes his glasses with the other. They turn to tiny suns as he touches them, and orbit his hand. He places the stone against his eye and peers into it.
alsoquin As Imrama gazes into it, he sees... something... vast. Water... islands... the entirety of the Fourth Sea stretches out before him... fleets of merchant vessels float across the surface and ocean storms roll across the ocean's surface as Imrama's gaze takes all of it in.
Imrama gives a sharp inhilation of air. "Breathtaking."
alsoquin Vasha smiles. "There is one of these, somewhere, for each of the seas. They are truly wondrous."
alsoquin Saraj looks over them and chuckles. "Are you showing off that trinket again, Vasha?"
alsoquin Revan looks up. "Try to have respect once in a while, Saraj. Would that be so hard?" But he smiles at the end of it, and takes a huge swig of his beer.
alsoquin Saraj makes a mock-sneer at Revan and puts a huge mug of beer in front of Imrama.
Imrama returns the stone carefully to Vasha. "Thank you very much for granting me such a vision." He lifts his tankard and drains it in one go.
Imrama "So, tell me Saraj: what monolithic danger is it that we shall face in the coming eclipse?"
alsoquin Saraj opens his eyes and opens his mouth in a display of humorous surprise, and slugs Vasha in the arm as he points at Imrama's impressive display.
alsoquin Vasha nods a little.
alsoquin The beer is quite good, for the house ale in a seedy tavern.
alsoquin Saraj speaks up, puffing himself up to speak importantly. "I believe that it is technically known as Flg'hera'kha'tha." He settles back down into himself. "But Vasha here calls it the 'Lurking Horror.'"
alsoquin Vasha looks over. "It is a very good name for it." He smiles broadly. "It describes what it is."
Imrama enjoys the lingering taste of the ale, and thinks whistfully of some of the finer brews of the Northern Fae. "So then, this Horror; it Lurks apparently, and perhaps will lurk somewhat more actively in a very short time?"
alsoquin Saraj nods. "Its spawn have been bothering us for some time now, but during Calibration the damn thing's gonna come up for a visit itself."
alsoquin The name seems to ring a bell for Imrama, and after he thinks about it, he can remember why: the ancient beast Flg'hera'kha'tha has a minor but vital role in The Final Flight of Akes Ziladi, where the corpses of the Roseate Morning's crew are absorbed into the beast's horrifying sea-spawn.
alsoquin The book's exact phrasing describes the creature as a "horrifying remnant of the First War, a weapon left to grow in darkness for thousands of years."
Imrama ponders Saraj's words with a gravity that far outweighs the Westerner's jovial spirit. "Such a thing would be a terrible danger to the world and all that lives within it." He guestures to the bartender. "My good fellow, pardon me, but may I ask if you have anything a bit stronger?"
alsoquin The bartender nods, and pours out a triple shot of the finest Western fire-whiskey for him.
Imrama This, Imrama sips and savors. "It will be an honor to work with you to see that such a terrible fate does not befall Creation."
alsoquin "We're glad to have you on board," Saraj says, and claps Imrama rather dramatically on the back.
Imrama smiles and raises his his glass high. "To the many waters of the West, and to their peoples! I have not stood among them since I lived another life and bore another name. Askaru held a great fondness for the folk of the sea, and for great, lost Luthe. I can see that his feelings were well-placed."
alsoquin Vasha raises his glass quite rapidly and responds with a hearty "Yea!" that surprises even Saraj a little bit, but in a moment the others raise their glasses too.