“Talwyn Cully is a scourge on Lustro and doesn’t deserve to have a master blacksmith title.” Estrid was lecturing Chickadee on the finer points of blacksmithing. “Mist charged weaponry? It gives false hope and praise to the weapon itself. Weapons are an extension of one’s own body and mana. They shouldn’t do all of the work on their own!”
Zaniyah looked off to the side and nervously laughed as she listened. Not only did Whisper use mist charges, but Chickadee was the one that crafted her axe. He took after his mother when it came to blacksmithing skill. Neither of them had bothered to inform Estrid of Chickadee’s personal relation to her out of fear on how she’d react. Estrid already had a habit of ranting about her rivalry with the woman on her own. No need to make it worse.
Looking over the armory, Alton could easily see which items Chickadee had made. They tended to be smoother in appearance, and held many decorative details. He, however, was very bored of all of this. A heavy storm had moved into Herring.
Apparently ‘the festival’ happened every summer. They surged in from the island of Lyrhea, which to the northwest. Zaniyah was the one in charge of informing them of they needed to know about the trip, but she had somehow forgotten to mention the fact that they needed to get in and out before the storms arrived.
The majority of Herring’s citizens had left the town to seek work elsewhere. With the storm acting so fiercely, it was dangerous to go outside. Estrid assured them that the storm will break after a few days, and they should take that opportunity to leave before it comes back. In the meantime, there was plenty of food and supplies for the lot of them.
“Look at your own work.” Estrid pointed over to the sword that was decorated with fish. “Hate to say it, but you do a fine job. We managed to get through all those orders quicker than expected, so I suppose I could reward you with something.”
The two excused themselves and Estrid took Chickadee up the castle tower. Outside, the storm still raged on with lightning and thunder erupting every few seconds. She settled herself against the wall and nodded at the younger blacksmith. “You should take that knife out and see where it points this time.”
Chickadee pulled the knife from his belt and dropped it. A string of mana tied itself to his finger as the enchantment began. The blade lifted up, pointing over to to the ocean like it had last time. However, it also started to move upward. Eventually the tip orientated itself so that it was pointed towards the sky, dancing slightly as it did so.
“That’s the god of storms.” Estrid explained. “The festival has been going on for well over two hundred years now, and it happens whenever he leaves his island. Legend says that it’s a dragon. The last of his kind. Supposedly this is a summoning ritual, hoping that it can still find a mate.”
Chickadee blinked, and then squinted at the window. He couldn’t make out any sort of shape like a dragon within the storm. “And Skuti?” He asked, turning his head towards Estrid.
“Most people around here believe this to be nothing more than a storm, but Skuti went out there one year and found a strange scale on the shores of Lyrhea. Damn sirens chased him away before he was able to find out more. He ended up using that scale to craft that knife and insisted that the dragon was the one causing the storms.” She gestured to the hurricane outside. “What he wanted more than anything was to craft a weapon that would put that poor thing out of its misery.”
He didn’t have a response for that. Chickadee’s thoughts laid elsewhere. The knife wavered back and forth in the air, making smooth motions to suggest that something was flying among the clouds. He snapped back his hand and caught the knife swiftly.
Estrid let out a loud laugh and slapped Chickadee’s shoulder. “Don’t bother trying to figure out how to do that. I’m just glad someone with skill pulled that knife out of its grave. Thousands of folk passed up that plain looking thing, but you bothered to give it a chance. Either way, it’s special. Maybe you won’t kill the god that’s out there, but I reckon you can find an even better use for it. You’re smart, after all.” She let out another laugh as Chickadee sulked harder. “Take a break. Go see what your friends are up to.”
At Alton’s insistence, Zaniyah had tied up some ropes between castle pillars and was teaching him how to walk among them. Mostly this involved her laughing at him as he stumbled and struggled not to fall. Dancing was something he was normally graceful at, but this was some sort of barbaric balance torture. After he fell a few times, she had to lower the height of the ropes or risk him seriously injuring himself.
“It’s not like you ever plan on going inside the core.” Zaniyah leaned against the wall while Alton flapped his arms around. She had him holding a long stick in his hands, but it could only do so much for his balance.
“I have my reasons.” Alton was stern with his reply. He didn’t want to admit that such a skill might help him appear more charming to Sybil. Not that he cared about her, or anything like that, it was because Lydia insisted that he try to get into some of her hobbies to improve his image. That was all.
Zaniyah grimaced as she watched him slip and fall. With the ropes only a few inches of the ground, at least he he didn’t have far to go. “I don’t think this is one of those skills you can pick up instantly. It’s probably going to take a lot of practice.” Though most children in the core picked it up after a matter of days. She wasn’t going to tell him that.
“Most children in the core have it mastered after a few hours,” replied Lydia. Her honesty was rewarded with Alton’s death glare.
Chickadee descended down the stairs. He watched the pair argue back and forth on whether or not Alton was failing due to Zaniyah being a bad teacher or him a bad student. The mage blinked at the scene before walking up and taking a step on the rope. He made it look easy, walking back and forth without the slightest stumble.
“Here.” He outstretched his hand for Alton to take. All he got in return for his generosity was a scowl. “This is how they teach children.” He continued to glare at Chickadee, who continued to hold out his hand. “... Here.”
Alton relented, taking Chickadee’s hand and stepping up on the rope. The mage started to walk backwards, holding Alton’s hands so he could follow. It was difficult, since Alton was taller than Chickadee. However, it was easier for him to keep his balance this way.
“I could’ve done that, “ Zaniyah muttered. “It just seemed like he wanted to learn on his own... Oh! Did you learn what you have to do for your quest?”
Chickadee nodded. “Blacksmithing.”
“That’s exactly what you’ve been doing this whole time.” Alton struggled to not fall as Chickadee stepped forward in an effort to make him walk backwards. “Are you sure there isn’t more to it than that?”
Chickadee shook his head. He spun around slowly while clasping onto Alton’s hands, making sure his dance partner didn’t slip in the process. “We can leave when ready.”
Zaniyah hummed. “Estrid said the rain might let up tomorrow. Are we going to stay a few days in Mareth on the way back?” She was eager to be able to get back to her adoring crowds. Maybe Chickadee will join her on the ropes there since his leg was no longer injured.
“Mareth is fine,” muttered Chickadee. He felt drained over the disappointment of not being able to complete his quest in a timely manner. Maybe watching Alton and Zaniyah have fun would cheer him up. That is, as long as he wasn’t put on “find Alton” duty again.
“We should head to Braytons as soon as we can,” replied Alton as he struggled to keep up. He didn’t dare do a spin like Chickadee, lacking confidence in his balance. “Twist and Vex should have returned from the swamp.”
Zaniyah shrugged. “I guess there’s no reason to hang around at all. It shouldn’t take longer than a week to get back if we leave tomorrow, right? That means we can get Sybil and Vex and take them to Mareth.” She grinned widely. “It’ll be extra fun with more people.”
But it didn’t stop raining the day after that… Nor the day after that... If anything, the storm was worsening with each passing hour. The clouds overhead were so thick that it became impossible to tell night from day. Even with the castle set up high away from the town, the heavy rain and surging sea made it dangerous to leave.
The castle was beginning to get crowded, as many who had failed to leave Herring in a timely manner were now seeking higher shelter. Estrid assured them that this was a yearly occurrence. Sometimes a week or more would go by before a brief break in the weather, and then everyone would rush in a panic to leave before it started up again.
Alton took to practicing on his harp, but it bored him. Even the thought of entertaining others with his music failed to cheer him up. Zaniyah would dance on the ropes set above him, but nearly everyone was to depressed about the weather to find it fun. Chickadee was fine. There was always more blacksmithing work that needed to get done.
“Okay, seriously? What is wrong with the weather?!” Zaniyah exclaimed while lounging upside down on the stairs.
“The barracks will realize something happened if we don’t make it back in time.” Alton reasoned. “They must know about the rain if it happens yearly. It’s not like there’s an entity controlling the weather that we can talk to about making the rain stop.”
Chickadee pulled out his knife and dropped it. It rose up in the air and pointed up at the sky. The pair looked over at him, at the knife, and then back to him. Sometimes it was difficult to understand what point he was making.
“... There is something making this weather?” Alton asked, and Chickadee nodded. “What is it?”
“Seriously?!” Zaniyah jogged down the stairs and approached. She set a finger on the side of the knife and pushed it down, then watched as it hovered back up. “Are you sure it’s a dragon?” Chickadee shrugged.
Alton folded his arms, deep in thought. “Not like we have the ability to call it down.” They both stared at him. “What is it?”
“Trala la li la~” Chickadee’s voice went sweetly through the air.
“But,” stammered Alton, “I could try, but even if it did work… I assume there would be all sorts of other issues we would have to worry about afterward. Like getting eaten by a damn dragon!”
“Dress in a friendly manner.” Zaniyah put on a smile. “No sword, nice suit. You should have a nice suit. You wore something that looked great on you in Mareth. Very delicious.” She gave a thumbs up.
“But I don’t want to look delicious,” replied a worried Alton.
After assuring that it would be fine, Alton finally relented as they worked together to make a plan. He would dress up, Zaniyah would hide off to the side with her axe, and Chickadee would go someplace high to use his cane from a distance. Although, with low visibility, and the rain drenching the sands, and an overall inability to use water magic, he wouldn’t be able to do anything at all.
In order to keep Alton confident, Chickadee withheld that information.
Alton dressed the attire that he had while in Mareth. He had purchased a fine black tunic covered in musical notes, and it was made for warm weather in mind. Putting it on made him shiver with cold, but he didn’t have anything else appropriate to wear.
He needed to bring the rapier with him so it could amplify his voice. He also put on his mask and put on his mist charge weapon, which was his collar. It was a simple soft satin cord that was joined in the front with a swatch of black leather. The clasp had blood iron embedded into it, and was in the shape of a fish tail.
He put a long cape over himself and the three of them made their way down to as close to the ocean as they could manage. The docks were completely covered with sea water, so they settled for a road that was away from any buildings. Chickadee pulled out the knife and he and Alton watched for where it pointed.
“Please don’t blow up, please don’t blow up.”
Alton placed a mist charge into his collar, and waited for the surge of energy to happen. He then pointed his rapier in the same direction the knife had pointed and waited for Chickadee to get into position before he started his song. His voice boomed out, much louder than it normally could.
It twisted through the sounds of the storm and was somehow further amplified as the notes soared up to the heavens. Though it was different then the last time Zaniyah had heard it. It didn’t transfix her or paralyze her. Rather, it made her depressed. She could sense that it was calling out for someone special. Zaniyah felt a pang of sadness in her heart as she knew that melody wasn’t for her.
She shook her head and slapped her cheeks to snap herself out of it. “Blasted magical singing.” Chickadee was swaying slightly back and forth, having moved up to get a better look. She gave him a gentle slap to the back of his head to bring him back to his senses as well. “Keep your guard up,” she hissed out in a whisper.
Ever watchful, Lydia floated near Alton as he finished his song. “I don’t think the three of you have thought this through as well as you think you have,” she said as she placed her cheek within the palm of her hand. Her head tilted to the side as she hummed to herself.
“It’s a little too late to be saying that now,” Alton growled. He was drenched, he was cold, she offered no advice during the planning stage. Suffice to say, he was miserable. His shivering also made him unable to hit certain notes, and he worried that may have affected his message.
“I’m not confident that this will work. The storms near Herring have gone on for many years, and I’ve never heard of a dragon being the cause of them,” stated Lydia with a firm nod of her head. “With demand for blood iron increasing, and the amount of magical creatures diminishing, I find it difficult to believe no one has pounced upon this opportunity.”
They waited, keeping their eyes on the sky as they did so. The rain slowly came to a halt, and the clouds parted just enough for a crack of light to shine down on Alton. He kept up his composure, standing tall as he placed the rapier at his hip. In truth, he was terrified. He was absolutely terrified to the point where he became frozen in place and unable to follow through with his overwhelming urge to flee.
A shadow began to move across the surface of the water. As it hit the light, Alton could see that it was a massive tiger with a set of furred wings on its back. It was larger than any beast he could conceive, possibly large than Bardsen’s castle. Above it, another shadow came into view. This time a flying blue serpent of equal size with antlers stretching out from its head.
They both were covered in massive scars and fresher wounds. Instead of blood, the serpent had streams water coming out of its body. The tiger had clouds that would float upward. They both bent down and peered at Alton, who was silently saying his final prayers in his head.
“Why have you summoned us, siren?” The serpent's deep voice boomed over the town.
Alton gulped and straightened up his drenched clothing. “The people ask for a temporary break from the storms. There are those trapped here who wish to leave.”
The serpent considered this for a moment. It drew closer, enough that Alton could touch the tip of its snout if he stretched out his hand. “These ‘storms’ have lasted beyond several of their generations. It is their fault for choosing to remain in the home of their ancestors.”
A feminine voice came from the tiger. “They are the result of our duels. Every year we war over Lyrhea and seek to understand which of us is strongest. We cannot stop until a victor has emerged.”
“But why fight at all?” Alton looked between the pair, and the serpent pulled away to allow the tiger to speak.
“You are far to human, siren. You fail to understand the instincts that should lie at your core. Why do you love? Why do you swim? Our fighting is the same for us as it is for you to sing. It is a necessity. It is purpose. It is our very existence. Until my territory is mine alone, I cannot stop,” she bellowed out.
“Perhaps a deal? Is there a deal we can arrange where you will stop your fighting for a single day?” Alton asked.
The pair looked at each other. “Perhaps,” the serpent stated.
“Yes. I agree that there is a way we can stop,” yhe tiger replied.
“Siren,” the serpent's voice bellowed. “We will cease our fighting so that the humans may leave this place.”
Alton bowed deeply. “You have my gratitude!”
“In exchange,” the tiger continued. “You must give us a new way to duel.” This made Alton freeze up again. “The stalemate has gone on long enough. We demand that you offer us a new way to compete so that the storms here will cease.”
“Okay… Yeah.” Alton looked over to the serpent, who nodded with the tiger’s request. He then looked over to Zaniyah and Chickadee, who both shrugged in a panic. “I can absolutely do that for you.” He then lifted up his mask and looked up at Lydia with a pleading look in his eyes.
Lydia shook her head. “This is for you and you alone to solve. Challenges such as these are best solved by the living.” She smiled widely as Alton’s eyes widened with fear.
As though he would be alive for much longer at this rate. Some mentor Lady Larkin was turning out to be. Alton quickly stammered the first idea that came to his head. “Spend one lifetime as a human?” He looked up at the two creatures, who leaned in with interested looks on their faces. “It wouldn’t seem long to creatures such as yourselves. Spend one lifetime as a human and compete to see who can make the most out of their lives. Is that possible?”
“I’m uncertain that would work,” replied the serpent.
“It’s at least something different,” said the tiger as she and the serpent looked to each other. “What is the length of one human life when compared to ours?”
“It is possible, but that would take some time to prepare,” said the serpent. He watched the tiger for a moment longer, then the two nodded at one. “We agree to these terms, siren. During that time. The storms will cease as we compete for who may live the most fulfilling life.”
Alton sighed with relief. “Thank you. You have my gratitude!” He watched as the two took flight, heading to the island that was far off in the distance.
When they were finally past the horizon, the clouds began to fully break open. Herring was bathed in sunlight, with the town below slowing starting to come to life. Alton slumped to the ground. He felt weak in the knees. If he had to compare his quest for Lydia to Chickadee's quest for Bardsen, he might argue that Chickadee had the worst deal.
Zaniyah whistled as she came out of hiding. “You know, I don’t know much, but I’ve always heard that it was a bad idea to make deals with big magical creatures.”
“I panicked!” Alton exclaimed. He ignored Lydia behind him, who was cooing in awe of his ability to remain stoic in the presence of such beasts.
Both Chickadee and Zaniyah knelt down on either side of Alton. Their arms wrapped around him and gave him a hug. A huge, very wet, and very cold hug.
“Why is this happening..?” Alton looked between the two of them with concern.
“Shh… It’s okay. You won’t go through this alone since we’re a family.” Zaniyah cooed, with Chickadee nodding in agreement.
“Please stop,” Alton flatly stated.
“Just relax and let it happen.” He received a kiss from each of them on his cheeks, which resulting in him squirming for freedom.
“We don’t have long! They might change their minds and start fighting again! Let’s just get out of here and go home!” He cried out.
Zaniyah just hugged him tighter. “That’s right. It’s our home. Together.”
Alton let out a loud, quick series of notes which resulted in both Chickadee and Zaniyah falling off of him. Both of them were somewhat paralyzed from the shriek. He used this change to crawl away and stumbled to a stand, straightening his clothes as best as he could afterward.
“We’re getting into some dry clothes and leaving! Now!” He shouted out the command. His feet slammed into the ground as he stomped away in anger, while the other two broke down into a fit of laughter behind him. Their adventure to Herring was over, and they can finally start working on the one that laid ahead of them at Braytons.