The arrival of the “Sea Raiders” is one of the most mysterious parts of the time before the Imperial Confederation.
The Myca Kingdoms were completely destroyed at this time, while Ra’Sharon and the Hin’Tye empire were greatly stressed. The pressure had a powerful effect on the two surviving empires, forcing them to change and evolve. Much of the Hin’Tye dominance during the Pre-Confederation Era can be directly attributed to policies and traditions adopted during the time of the Sea Raiders.
While there was a mix of other dangerous instabilities and problems that arose and were addressed around the same time, the Sea Raiders remain one of the only unexplained parts of those years.
We know that before the knowledge of crop rotation took hold, the Hin’Tye empire had slowly declining crop yields over centuries. We know that the Myca, the Hin’Tye, and Ra’Sharon depended heavily on international trade, relying on each other for the copper and tin that made bronze, and that when that trade network was threatened they lost the ability to maintain tools and weapons. We know that their most powerful weapon, the chariot, was both expensive to maintain and hard to use by anyone but high level [Charioteers] and that any significant loss of these soldiers would take decades to replace. We know that for millenia, magic was seen as dangerous and suspicious, mired in superstition and tradition instead of research and reason.
However, we have almost no idea who the Sea Raiders were or where they came from.
They hit the coasts like a storm, and like a storm departed shortly afterwards.
(-an excerpt from: “The History of the Imperial Confederation: an analysis of pre-Descent politics in the near east” by Karen Smith)
Cadence Lee (as Hemere) POV:
I woke up on a bed- one with actual cushions!
While that was admittedly nice, I wondered how I had gotten here. The sun was shining through an open window and the room looked rather nice. If it wasn’t for the smell of smoke in the air, it would be quite a nice and peaceful morning.
I jolted fully awake a second after I had that thought, the memories of yesterday flashing through my mind. The smoke in the sky, the ride to Ugareet, watching Sut enter the city, and then singing on the hill… That reminded me of the pain in my throat and I flinched, raising a hand to my neck.
I was glad that there was a pitcher of water by my bedside, because I was parched. The water was lukewarm and it hurt to drink it, but I still gulped it down greedily to slake my thirst. I could taste blood as I drank and nearly spilled a cup of water all over myself when Sere surprised me with a hand on my shoulder; I hadn’t heard her approach.
For some reason she was whispering, asking how I was doing. I tried to respond but before I could make a sound I flinched from the pain again. Trying to speak was too painful, and I was starting to suspect that Sere was not whispering to me… No, her mouth was far too animated for her to be whispering, I had gone deaf.
Yesterday I pushed my Skills to their limit like I never had before. I stood alone on the hill above Ugareet because Aj, Sere, and the [Royal Guards] assigned to me were unable to stand near me. I could feel my voice vibrating the ground beneath my feet as I sang to an entire city. My ears had hurt, then they bled; my voice would have cracked as the sound ravaged my throat if not for my [Perfect Pitch] Skill.
I tried to talk again, just to whisper, and the pain felt like a hot knife being shoved down my throat. It occured to me that I might never be able to talk or hear correctly again because I had pushed my body far beyond what a human was supposed to be capable of. I tried to fight down the feelings of panic as tears began to fill my eyes.
Sere was saying something, but I couldn’t understand what. Soon afterwards, a familiar pair of hands clutched my shoulders as Sut knelt by the bed, saying something with a concerned look on his face. I could only tap my ear and shake my head. He said something else and I could only open my mouth, point to it, and then shake my head again. Sut seemed to understand, because Sere left and then came back with clay.
Sut took the clay and a stylus from her and wrote, “are you ok, Hem?”
I took the clay from him and summoned my [Magic Stylus], replying, “I am alive, but I cannot hear and it hurts to speak.”
I didn’t write down my fears, but anyone could see that I had them and it was easy to understand what they were. When Sut took the clay gently from me, he wrote, “do not worry, I will spare no expense to have [Priests] and [Alchemists] heal you,” to reassure me. That might make me feel better later, but right now I was still devastated.
Except, when I looked up - wiping the tears from my eyes - I was shocked to see that Sut was not in his customary robes. No, he was bare chested. Or he would have been if not for the bandages; he had clearly been injured in the fighting. I instinctively tried to gasp in surprise, but only ended up flinching as I grabbed the clay back from him.
“What about you, are you ok? You were injured!” I wrote quickly, my handwriting suffering from my impatience.
“They are just flesh wounds,” was his reply and I found out that attempting to laugh also hurt. After a few minutes of writhing in pain as I tried to laugh and cry out from the pain of trying to laugh at the same time, I managed to gain control of myself long enough to take the clay again and write out: “Don't. Make. Me. Laugh!”
Honestly, I didn’t even find that part very funny, but the relief coursing through me had made me want to laugh uproariously. I had Sut write out an explanation of what had happened in the city after he had gone in, and how I had gotten into this bed. Having only the clay to write on and having to wait to read was incredibly frustrating, and I hoped this wouldn’t be what I had to do for the rest of my life.
He praised my singing, and wrote about how it had helped him and the [Soldiers] as they had cleared the city of the invaders. I think he skipped most of the details - either because he thought he needed to spare me the imagery or because he just didn’t feel like writing it out - but even reading about it after the fact, I had anxiety imagining the close quarter battles on the streets and inside the twisting alleys of the city. Slowly rescuing and gathering pockets of [Soldiers] and [Guards] before pushing towards the harbor where Shatti lit the enemy's boats on fire and the invaders were killed to the last.
The [King] had survived and had been rescued from his palace that had been under attack by a large force. I was in a room of the palace now, the building was made of stone and hadn’t been burned in the slightest. The [King] had offered to let us rest here and recover, but Sut did not want to wait. The attack had made him nervous and he wanted to get back to the capitol as soon as possible.
I couldn’t really hear or speak, but I could stand, and I have to confess that I was not keen to remain in a city that had just been attacked. I would prefer to be inland and with a small army between me and an attack like that, so I was not hard to convince. Also, the [King’s] [Priests] were busy saving lives and didn’t have the time or energy to heal me, but Hasa had many [Priests] and [High Priests].
Taros might even have a [Priest] that could help me, so I might not even have to wait to reach Hasa. Regardless, if I wanted to be healed I would be best served by moving on. We left as soon as we could, returning to the boats and resuming our journey. It was an interesting and frustrating experience to spend weeks without speaking.
The only real kind of entertainment available on the road was conversation. I would have killed for a smartphone, but I suppose the joke would have been on me if I had been able to kill someone to obtain a smartphone, because there wasn’t a network for it anyway. That was how bored I was, that I was coming up with nonsense like that!
I couldn’t even listen to the conversations around me, so the boredom would have been mind-numbing if I hadn’t been able to practice with magic. Or rather, if I hadn’t been able to practice sensing mana and nudging it around. It really wasn’t practicing magic anymore than picking up a paintbrush and moving it around a blank canvas without paint was practicing painting! Although - continuing in the vein of my useless, strange, and bored thoughts - it did occur to me that people often took holding things and moving them for granted. Having been a baby thrice, I can tell anyone who asks that grabbing things is hard.
The entire time we were travelling to Taros, I was occupied with practicing those skills and making dumb jokes to myself in silence. It wasn’t until after we left Taros - the city unfortunately lacked a [Priest] that could heal me - that I finally saw a reward for my effort.
[Congratulations, you are now a level 1 [Mage]!]
[You have learned the Skill [Minor Mana Sense]!]
[You have learned the Skill [Crude Mana Manipulation]!]
For all that Skill was called “[Minor Mana Sense],” it was actually quite a change from my attempts to sense mana before. Whereas I had to try to feel mana before I got the Skill, now it was like all my other senses: just a passive part of the way I saw the world around me. It was actually quite distracting, especially because sensing mana involved some minor synesthesia. I could see it in the air, feel it on my skin, and to a lesser extent taste, smell, and even hear it.
It was extremely odd, but it also turned my deafness into a benefit, because I seemed to be more sensitive to vibrations travelling through mana as a result. Everyone and every living thing had a small amount of mana in them, and it helped them stand out from the air and environment around them. Shatti, meanwhile, stood out like a bonfire. He seemed to shine when I looked at him, and the hairs on the back of my neck stood up when he was nearby. I could see what seemed like half visible eddies of mana in the air preceding him when he moved and even somewhat heard him through the mana!
This was how I ended up noticing it first, because it created powerful eddies that I could hear I was turning when it burst onto the river bank.
The first monster I ever saw looked like someone had taken a dog and cross bred it with a dragon. It was a quadrupedal creature with fur in some places and scales in others. Its face was like a very vicious wolf, maybe two and a half meters tall at the shoulder and covered in coarse and spiky black fur that transitioned into scales on its neck and body - except for a small strip of fur down its back along its spine until it reached the tail, where it became a bumpy ridge that went down to the tail’s tip. The scales were a blackish-green and covered the neck and body, and they seemed to flex and overlap as the monster moved. The top tenth of its front legs were scaled as well, but became furred for most of the rest of its length until it reached the monster’s front claws, which were also covered in scales. In contrast, the back legs were entirely covered in fur down to its paws.
A couple weeks south of here, we would have seen it coming from a mile away. But as we had gone north and climbed in altitude, the environment had changed. The scrub had turned into a grassland, with bushes and trees beside the water and those had provided it the cover it needed to get this close.
At first I thought we were safe, considering that we were on a boat and it was on the shore, but the monster didn’t seem to agree. To my horror I saw it preparing to jump and for a second I wondered if it could possibly cover the distance between itself and us. I couldn’t even scream out. My throat no longer hurt, but I was still mute!
A second later, it seemed to sprout arrows like pins in a pincushion and fell over dead. The [Charioteers] - who also happened to be consummate [Archers] - began putting their bows away again with a bored look on their faces. I looked wildly from face to face, and no one seemed to care; they just went back to whatever they were doing before!
Sut raised an eyebrow at me in question and I went hunting for the clay I used when I needed to say something. When I found it, I tried to write but with the adrenaline draining from my body I was starting to shake terribly. I nearly jumped out of my skin in surprise when Sut put his arm around my back to comfort me, but ended up leaning into him and taking some deep breaths. It took a few minutes, but eventually I calmed down enough to write.
“That was a monster, wasn’t it?” I wrote, acknowledging it was a kind of obvious question.
“A Wolfdrake,” Sut wrote in reply. “Annoying creatures, they don’t even have useful materials and they taste awful.”
“It was the first monster I had seen that wasn’t controlled by a [Tamer] of some kind,” I thought about the river monsters that were tamed in Ra’Sharon. They had not scared me nearly as much, despite probably being the more dangerous monsters overall.
“It isn’t strange to see monsters here,” I read over his shoulder as he wrote. “There are Chasms only a few days to the east of here; maybe not quite a week by chariot.”
“Doesn’t that make it dangerous to camp on the shore here?” I was concerned about sleeping at night with that kind of knowledge. Waking up to a Wolfdrake standing over me would probably kill me out of terror. Sure, I had fought in my last life, but that had been people, not monsters.
Sut’s answer was: “Not particularly, it is very rare for any truly dangerous monster to make it past the forts. Our usual night watch is more than enough to keep us safe.”
I admit, that sounded like a challenge to the universe and that I wouldn’t have been surprised if a three-headed dark fire spewing dragon had come out of the clear sky to take that challenge on. However, it never happened. Apparently, there were some monsters sighted and killed by the night watch, but I only ever saw one more personally: one of the horned rabbits, which looked temptingly fluffy.
Cunamini was a fairly fortified place. There were walls very far out from the city proper that separated the wilderness from farmland, and the farms themselves had piled stone fences dividing them. Even from the river, I was able to see [Guards] patrolling the area as well, although I certainly wouldn’t want to live or work on those farms myself. The city proper had another wall, much taller and more fortified than the outer wall. Everything on the ground outside the wall had been razed for twenty feet, leaving nothing that a person or monster could hide behind.
From the information about Cunamini Shatti had written out on the clay, I knew that this city was both a city and a major garrison and supply depot for the nearby forts guarding the Chasms. It was a very militarized city, and it showed at the harbor. However, as we went to leave the city the parts we passed through it became far more residential.
Finally, we were on the last leg of the journey, although it was admittedly quite a long leg. The distance between the Ra’Sharon border and Bilos, Bilos and Ugareet, Ugareet and Taros, as well as Taros and Cunamini, were roughly the same - and roughly the same as the distance between Cunamini and Hasa. So that meant we only had around one fifth of the journey left to go.
This journey had done nothing to change my mind about travel. This world desperately needs roads and way stations and I didn’t want to travel again until those things existed. Maybe some canals too. We had traveled by boat several times on several different rivers, and it would have been a lot more efficient if they were connected. Well, that might be asking too much. I didn’t know anything about building canals, but I bet it was a lot of work and I had a sneaking suspicion that doing so would cause problems with the water level in the rivers I wanted to connect.
No, it would be far better just to stick to roads for now. As I had sworn back in Ra’Sharon, I would have roads built even if I had to fund it myself! Just as soon as I was able to hear and speak again...
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