Beneath Genbooth’s general store in north bay Sing’Jar, a dozen robed figures hunched over benches, writing in leather bound journals with quils. As one figure shifted, their bench would totter and another’s ink block would slide off the edge and be grabbed at the last moment and placed back on the bench. Their hoods covered their faces, not because they were shy–no, they love to tell stories, they were historians–but it was cold in this basement. Their hoods were spotted and stained with black or brown smudges and finger prints from their inky hands stained from reflexively whisking their falling ink blocks out of the air before they smacked to bits on the roughtly tiled floor.
This was one of four suites rented out beneath Genbooth’s–two were storage and the third was a cobbler’s workshop. There was a regular creak of the broad, dark wooden steps that lead up to the entry hall to the ground floor as people brought their shoes in for repairs. The tapping and rattling of work next door added a comforting tempo to the quiet writings or the erudite conversations of the sages on their benches, sharing and preserving stories and knowledge they gathered from their studies in the library, at the mayor’s house or from the captains and crew that were in the city between their regular cargo routes. Often when the sailors would tell stories, sea gulls would hop up behind a scholar and tear a page out of their journal and fly off with…
Sea gull? Stop! Ulipa awoke, flailing her arms around her to drive of the bird. With an upset call, a bird lifted into the air away from her bag, and she pulled the bag right up to her belly and straigtened the papers in it.
“You’re up just in time, traveller,” a robust voice said from above her. Pulling her head up, she leaned into the horned shadow of a minotar–the first mate on this schooner. Dressed in faded orange denim pants with a sailcloth vest, he couldn’t be anything but a sailor. He had some good stories to share.
“El’gas! Are we almost at the Octrans?”
“Certainly are, little elf.” (How annoying–I’m a half elf) “You’re about to be present to a rare experience–very lucky indeed. The marine elves of these islands are not generally friendly to visitors. But their pidgeon messages indicated they were glad to talk to any historians or sages from the mainland. You might just find a new home here.”
A day later, the ArrowAxe having deboarded all its skinny, city-bred refugees from the burned timbers of Sing’Jar, Ulipa was sitting cross-legged next to Ost’se Ing’se, a cleric of Shashelas was sharing a story of the early days of the Octran islands over a very salty kelp loaf and rather sandy oysters. Ost’se, so old as to be gathering some alge between the wrinkles in folds of his neck and constantly scratching at the small barnacles trying to settle on the back of his upper arms looked at her curiously.
“Ulipa–you are the least agitated member of your guild, do you realize that? Your whole city burned down and many of your peers here nearly forgot their journals on the boat that just left. They are devastated…but you are quite rational. Share with me how this journey has been for you.”
Ulipa was not alright or comfortable with the destruction of Sing’Jar–who would be? But what could she actually do about it? She was not in shape to heft a sword, she hated running, she was never as good as her brothers at climbing trees or walking silently in the woods. “Ost’se…It’s horrible. I’ve cried the nights on the boat. Among the first time since I left my family in the forest I feel afraid and lonely again. I’m no fighter. What can I do? When I get people to share their stories and journal some history, I feel purpose and it takes my mind off the people I couldn’t help in the city.”
“You want to help more…Ulipa? There is a visitor older than myself on the way here I would introduce you to. I think you and he will get along well.”
And another day passed. Ulipa dwelled on the strange foreshadowing that Ost’se revealed. The patterns of the seaguls shifted. She saw sails on the horizon. Many of the aquatic elves ran for their canoes or waded in and swam to island Unus. Ost’se slowly got up, clutching his knapped-shell trident and disappeared into the surf.
Ulipa flipped her head around when a shadow fell over her. A handsom, warm skinned man in a dripping pair of shorts with a pair of sandals tossed over his shoulder dropped to a cross-legged seat next to her. “Greetings, sage! My name is Bron. I collect stories, too.”
And before she knew it, Ulipa and Bron had talked until sundown, completely oblivious to the grounding of ships and the battling pirates one island away. She described her home in the mountains, and how she met Feltor when she was little. Bron described how he helped out on the islands and helped make one of the largest houses on the islands far away from here. He described how this favorite home of his was destroyed by a spiteful giant and many of his friends were killed. Ulipa, her hand shaking with sadness and anger, wiped tears from her face. “I wish stories could defeat these disgusting orcs!”
“There are secrets in stories, you know,” said Bron, lifting a stone from the beach. In his thick fingered brown hands, beneath the brass rings with green turqoise inlay, he played his fingers around the surface of the stone. Crack! With a spark and chips clattering off the stones between their knees, he showed off the two halves of the rock.
As the moon rose to the zenith, Bron continued teaching Ulipa so many stories, so many bits of wisdom, she was startled to find a second listener, light eyed, golden hair and draped in a linen shawl, quietly seated next to her. “Jonrite,” Bron said, “this is Ulipa. She is a faithful scholar of this world and has suffered greatly from the orcs. I find her fascinating! Ulipa, this is Jonrite. Jonrite visits me very seldom and I consider it a rare honor to have his presence.”
“Ulipa,” Jonrite asked in a voice so calm that it hushed the sound of the crashing waves when he spoke, “I have watched you learn magic at the hand of Jonrite tonight and understand it. You are not afraid, nor are you shy. Of your fellow scholars, Ost’se picked you out as most worthy. He is the oldest aquatic elf of the islands. Between the three of us, we would invite you to take up the mantle of a champion and return to mainland.”
Ulipa was about to ask…
But Jonrite answered her in stride before she spoke: “aptitude for power and strength of character make a great foundation for a leader. You can channel your frustration with the world into change–and I can grant you powers to fight the evil taking over this land.”
And by taking Jonrites hands, she accepted a pact with a Solar. After finishing her vows, she looked up to find the stars replaced with a large bronze curtain surrounding them, and the head of a dragon looking down at her. In a not-exactly-quiet, growly voice, the dragon said, “Ulipa, respect the pact with the Solar and we will fight together, side by side one day soon. Be the spearhead that breaks the shield defending the evil to the east. When you and your team get beyond the gravel pit of Galentaspar, I will join you again.”
Jonrite put his fingers over Ulipa’s eyes and they were battered by gust of wind and stones from the dragon launching into the sky. When Ulipa opened her eyes again, she was alone on an empty beach, the pale edge of dawn in the east starting to grow.