The week is almost over, and with it comes a new misadventure of the nameless storyteller!
In other news, the Instagram accounts @themahrymproject and @mgalabard are up and running, more beautiful music and illustrations are in the making, and a big update is coming up in February: the valleys and plains of Nariv.
I came across a bard on my way out of Danarak. A girl named Aiga Aelyn, roughly seventeen, is heading north as well. To the shores. She’s probably tired of the endless dunes as well, for she is clearly not from here. Wide hat, a ram’s ears, blue symbols on her face… An oddity in this part of the world.
We make little conversation as we follow a group of merchants across… wherever we are in Vasrna. They’re amicable in proportion to the coin we have, which is close to none. They seem to appreciate the bard’s presence, though. Can’t say the same about me or the tales I’ve shared.
“Stories are for when we’re done for the day”, one of the merchants admonishes me. “But singing is alright. Increases motivation.”
My mind drifts from one cruel response to another, but the bard taps my shoulder and shakes her head. She’s too kind. I wonder how long that kindness will last.
As we follow the merchants, the two suns scorching our backs, the not-very-well-travelled bard known as Aiga begins to sing.
For someone like me, who lacks the ability to discern if someone’s singing in tune or or not, I pretend to be as marvelled as the merchants turning their heads.
Two scorching suns above us
The unknown ahead
And together we trail
Behind the merchants’ wares
We trail, trail, trail,
But oh, how I wish for rain,
Thirsty and hungry and covered in sweat
And the closest town a mile away
Clouds I beg you, please be kind,
Crown the skies and hide the suns
Send lightning, thunder, a waterfall,
But don’t forget the rain, rain, rain
The water is scarce
And not a soul will share,
For merchants are stingy lest you have the ræ
Or are willing to trade
Poor souls, in the desert lost,
Wondering if we’ll ever make it north
No oasis in sight, not a sign of life,
And our waterskins without a drop
We trail, trail, trail…
She repeats “trail” a hundred times until the merchants start to become visibly annoyed.
“Man, am I glad she doesn’t have a lute”, someone whispers ahead of us. Aiga doesn’t look irritated in the slightest, but lowers her voice a bit and we keep our distance from the merchants.
“That was not very wise”, is all I can tell her. “May I remind you they are the only source of water we have?”
“I know”, she responds in a jolly tune. “But the look on their faces!”
I refrain from sighing. She probably just left her home, won’t be long until she’s missing her family and heads back. Perhaps it’s what she’ll do once we reach the shores.
Suddenly, I lose my balance and my ankle twists. Pain strikes across my leg as I kneel down to see what I’ve stepped on. A pointy stone? Aiga reaches her hand out as the sand around us begins to move.
“Wait!”, is the only thing I can shout before hundreds of sharp teeth dart up and out of the sand around us. A circle.
Aiga jumps back with admirable swiftness and cries for help. I feel the sand around me shake and, in a snap, I fall inside an endless cavity. The walls of flesh are thick, dry, grainy. I try to hold onto one of the protuberances as a strong smell punches through my nostrils. It reeks of death.
I hear a ruckus outside of the beast, which has begun to shift to another direction. Liranj’s luck, I hope they do something. Anything. I can’t help but think about the countless years I’ve neglected training the bone in my arms.
Oh, that’s right. You probably haven’t heard this before. We, osvarii, have shape-shifting bones. At least the ones in the forearms, as far as common folk are aware.
Imagine me, an old man, opening the creature from the inside. I could’ve done that many years ago. My arm becoming an unbreakable blade, shredding flesh and tissue and escaping the grip of death, the merchants expressing their admiration as the creature drops dead, defeated.
With my current strength, which I’m not particularly proud of, I push myself upward and try to reach another lump. The beast has its mouth shut tightly, its neck narrowing by the second.
Aiga’s voice reaches me from a distance. Is she warning me about something?
I gasp as I feel a jab against the walls of flesh. As it convulses, I lose my grip and I desperately claw my nails in the coarse surface to slow the fall.
Aiga’s voice again. I can tell she’s close to screaming. And another voice, surprisingly calm. A merchant?
An ear-piercing shrill shakes the beast. Arzos’s beard, it’s terribly hot in here and the movement doesn’t make it better. Should I shout? Would it help if I kicked the beast with my weak feet?
As I quickly run through all possible options and outcomes, the beast lets out a guttural shriek and its mouth opens.
Everything is still.
“Can you climb up, old man?”, a girl’s voice I don’t recognise asks. As I hesitate, she adds: “The undormun is paralysed, but not for long.”
“I’ll manage”, I answer as my shaking hands grasp onto the next lump. A small pale arm, gloved in coral, reaches out to me. The bard. I make a last effort to reach it, and she and a young merchant pull me out.
Being at the brink of death, possibly a long and agonising one, has made my heart beat fast for once. I’m shaken, but I laugh. I can’t help but laugh. I had no plans on dying, lest by an undormun in the middle of the desert.
I thank the merchant, whose name is Taya. She knows her way around the dunes.
“If you know where to hit the undormun, the rest is fairly easy”, she explains as she mimics a jab against an invisible foe.
“And the glowing orbs?”, I ask, pointing at the two spheres hanging from the staff. Her smirk tells me she’s not going to share that secret with me, a foreigner. “Mahrym?”, I venture. “Oiruuvian technology?”
She refuses to give me an answer but offers me water. Not for free, of course. I give her a single ra and gulp down the waterskin. It’s barely half full.
“I’m… so sorry… I shouldn’t have sung”, Aiga laments, sobbing as we walk far, very far away from the undormun.
Now that I see the creature from afar, I realise how lucky I’ve been all this time fending in Vasrna on my own. Its worm head is the only part sticking outside the sand, its teeth pointing outward. It’s several arms wide and possibly several buildings long.
I guess I was lucky because I was alone before.
“I’m leaving this land”, I hear Aiga mumble behind me. “Worms coming out of the sand, taxes for singing, unbearable heat…”
As we continue to make our way through the dunes to the next city, clouds start to gather in the sky.
It’s going to rain after all, young bard.