A Firestorm Like No Other
Furious and outraged, He banished them to the opposite ends of Faölan and brought fire from the heavens down on the armies that were gathered against Him. The grounds shook in violent rage. Winds turned into furious tornadoes. Once dormant volcanoes erupted. His wrath caused great destruction. The once promised land broke apart. The people were cursed and divided into Twelve Tribes.
Jarlith’s young eyes searched the tides, looking for hope. The lad sat at the edge of a towering cliff, overlooking the end of the known lands. A vast stretch of deep blue sea, endless waves, and brewing clouds surrounded him. Most would be afraid to dangle their legs over the side of a cliff, but ever since he was young, he had been fearless. Instead, Jarlith often sought the opportunity to conquer danger and felt soothed with the sea.
As the strong winds blew up and over the cliff, he kicked his legs back and forth over the edge. His hands relaxed in the soft blades of grass around him. With a sigh, he leaned over a worn tree stump and gripped a hunting blade in his hand. He exhaled, embedding the blade into the stump, and etched another line next to a long row of lines he had already carved into the wood.
“Another sunset, Pa.” The boy hung his head, and then stood up. Last time he saw Pa, his father’s ship had disappeared past the horizon.
He glanced once more at the seaside as he always did before turning back towards home. As he paced away, he stopped in his tracks, thinking he had glimpsed unusual movement amid the numberless waves. Spinning back around, he squinted his eyes, straining to see whatever was out there on the horizon.
There it was—a mast.
It couldn’t be Pa.
The waves were choppy, and the dark, menacing clouds meant a storm was brewing. Why would a ship dare to voyage at this time?
All the villagers had tied and stowed their ships along the docks, which were far below the chalky, jagged cliffs. The rickety path down to the docks was a few paces from him, and it wasn’t safe nor smart to venture down when a storm approached. He squinted again and saw not one, but five masts—distant ships sailing on the horizon. They were coming in quick, too. This wasn’t a fleet of fishing vessels straggling home. No, this was a raiding party, or perhaps an invading force. Definitely not Pa.
Demons came to mind. Wild rumors had been flooding these parts of the world for the past half cycle that demons were planning to invade the villages along this sea coast. These demons had spikes and scales instead of skin, and there was no telling what they would do to the villagers. But could the rumors be true? Blasphemy! Jarlith pushed the thought from his mind.
The boy frantically reached for the horn he kept tied on his belt. A spiral shell from his Pa. Jarlith ripped the horn from its leather-bound knot and fumbled to bring it towards his lips. His Pa’s voice sounded in his head, when he had given the large seashell to him, “Use this, blow through the bottom hole if you ever run into any trouble.”
Jarlith’s eyes were transfixed on the increasing number of ship masts coming into view. No one back home knew what was coming. After a deep breath, with the icy shell to his lips, preparing to blow as Pa had instructed. His heart raced as he blew with all his might. But no sound came out.
“This is the worst time to have dry lips!” he said and hastily licked his lips. Even his tongue was parched. With renewed vigor, Jarlith blew. This time, luckily—and he wasn’t sure how he did it—a loud burst of sound erupted from the shell. The noise blasted, echoing over the cliff and throughout the surrounding forest.
Colorful flyjays flew away and cawed, angered at the disturbance.
Just as the fowl cawed, Jarlith’s horse anxiously neighed from where the steed was tied up, a short distance from the cliff. The village must have heard the distress call, but would it alert them to the danger at hand? No one had ever blown a distress call in Warsh before. Would the villagers properly heed his alarm?
As Jarlith waited for what felt like cycles, he debated what he should do. Should he go back to his village, or stay put at the bluff so that he could explain to anyone who came why he had sounded the distress call? As he waited, he studied the ever-arriving and countless masts that were now filling the horizon. Sea cruisers, built to travel long distances, came into view. Large enough to be destructive, each sea cruiser could carry a sizable crew. All were of a similar red design even with red sails, except for one. The odd one out was a menacing black monstrosity.
The monstrous black ship at the center was easily three times larger than ships in the armada it was leading. A sickening malice radiated from it, palpable even from a distance. Despair consumed Jarlith’s thoughts. He couldn’t tear his eyes off the vessel. Even the sea seemed to be responding to the dark ship, the storm now erupting. Thunderous booms echoed across the seaside as brilliant lightning bolts covered the sky, illuminating the ever-darkening scene with vivid flashes of light.
He peered up at the sky, which was quickly bringing a storm in.
In an instant, the heavens opened and icy rain poured down. The sea was fighting back against the armada. Waves swelled, exceeding the heights of the vessels themselves. The vessels continued their speedy approach, but they were rocking hard. And then the first vessel reeled with a powerful wave that rocked it so far off balance, the mast and crew went under the wave and were lost in the storm. Another mast broke in two by a lightning strike, and the ship spun violently to the right and crashed into another. Wood splintered as the two ships sank, leaving only broken planks floating on the surface.
It horrified him to see vessel after vessel go under the waves. Maybe his parents had been right to keep him away from the sea his whole life.
He’d seen ten or twenty ships go down in a moment, but they kept approaching, ignoring their lost comrades. He didn’t want to look away, but he needed to. Spinning away, he decided to warn the village in person. He tore off to mount his horse.
The town of Warsh was only a few moments away, but time was not on their side. The boy reached his steed and climbed onto her. He patted her gently and hugged her neck as he whispered in her ear, “Good girl, let’s get back to town to find Ma, and see if the folks heard our alarm.”
At his command, she bolted into an all-out gallop.
His steed was the quickest in town. But he only possessed such a speedy horse because Pa had left her behind. Her creamy brown coat and striking silver mane stood out. Her hooves kicked up dirt and splashed water, as she raced through the storm along the path back towards the town.
As Jarlith clung to her neck, he pressed his head against her neck to protect his eyes. He wished he had brought something to protect himself from the pelting rain. After a thunder crack ripped through his eardrums, another lightning bolt lit up the sky, revealing the nearby village that was blinks away. A small patch of woods divided the cliffs and docks from the village palisade.
The sea was in a rage this pass, and now the sky joined in. Not only were there emerald raindrops, but were there also a few red-orange drops falling?
No, please no, he prayed while he rode without any cover of protection. Red-orange raindrops weren’t called ‘flamedrops’ for nothing.
He dared to look up to see if it was true, and it was. The cloud above him transformed rapidly from just a solid, menacing black hue. Vibrant orange swirls now appeared in the middle of the cloud.
And then the fire balls fell from the sky, an acrid mist filling the air as the rain boiled. A flamedrop singed his arm, and he yelped in pain. Two hit his mare’s rump, and she neighed out in terror, as they neared the town gate. These storms used to be rare, but their frequency and intensity had been increasing more and more as of late. And this one was the worst he’d seen in all his cycles. No wonder folks kept moving inland from Warsh. These storms were known to burn their croplands.
As he thundered down the path, the boy clenched his teeth together to push past the burning pain. The icy rain brought some relief to the scorched burns on his arms. Almost like healing.
Outside of the village wall, the old gatekeeper stood holding a shield to protect himself from all kinds of rain, both icy and fiery. The boy quickly took control of his horse, riding alongside the wooden wall that had caught on fire, but keeping at enough of a distance to stay out of the elements. Jarlith wondered when the town would reinforce their infrastructure.
“Gatekeeper, Sir, let me in!” he screamed over the deafening downpour until his voice went hoarse.
“Was that ye, Boy? Who set the alarm?” the old gatekeeper asked.
“Yeah, Sir. There is an armada of ships approaching. Let me in!” Jarlith demanded.
The old man shook his head. Freggo, the gatekeeper, was getting older and struggled to recognize most of the villagers. He always guarded the gates like they were precious, which sometimes resulted in denying the villagers entrance like he was doing to Jarlith right now.
Now Jarlith really needed to get home.
“An armada?” Freggo questioned. “In this storm? Ne.”
Slowly, the thick accent from the gatekeeper became clear to the boy. His parents spoke with a high dialect, so he found it weird whenever he heard older folks use the old Warsh accent.
“Please, believe me. There are so many ships approaching that they literally span the horizon.”
The gatekeeper scowled, forcing Jarlith to act in desperation. To save the village, he grasped his shell and blew out another loud alarm that caused his steed underneath to rear and neigh angrily. The old man covered his ears, and before he could scold the boy, four horsemen approached, galloping on horseback from further down the wooden walls.
As the first rider approached, splashing the boy and the gatekeeper, he called out, “What is the matter, Gatekeeper? Who is sounding the alarm in this storm? You’ve got half the town packing their bags, ready to leave. Some just because the storm is so ferocious, and others in confusion from the alarm.” Both flame and raindrops bounced off his suit of armor as he spoke.
Jarlith knew the gatekeeper didn’t recognize the rider, or really anyone, as he was aging and his memory was fading. Seizing the opportunity, the boy yelled out to the rider, “Sir, there is an armada of ships with red sails approaching with more than enough sailors to sack our small village, maybe even the capital! I blew my shell to alert the townspeople! We need to ask the villagers to evacuate! Jakuri would be the safest.”
The rider raised a worried brow and clenched his reins. “Red sails?”
Two of the riders tightened their hold and eyed each other nervously.
One rider behind the main rider asked, “Captain, is it them?”
“Lad, we’ve been stationed here in the case that an invading force might come. You’re sure?” the captain asked, as he leaned forward to see Jarlith better.
Did the captain know him? Jarlith nodded furiously, trying to hide his face from view.
He continued to Jarlith, “I believe you. Wauös and Gregor, go to the seaside and verify the approach.”
To the two riders behind him, he said, “If indeed they have arrived, we must make haste via the waterway to Raldor and Jakuri, so make ready!”
The soldiers nodded to their captain and tore off, disappearing into the mists.
“I’m Captain Acias,” the captain said, turning to the gatekeeper. “Sir, sound the evacuation alarm and open these blasted gates!”
The gatekeeper hurried as if he would be met with a blade to his throat if he disobeyed. He ran to the lock on the gate. He pulled an old key ring from his pocket and opened the gate, exposing a crowd of frantic villagers. They had decided to pack up and were ready to flee the village in order to escape the storm, having heard the alarm. Merchant tables and broken wagons littered the streets.
“Yell to the townspeople and tell them to traverse to the capital. If there is truly such an armada, that is the only stronghold that will protect these folks. As for us, we need to get back to the docks, to the skipper!” Captain Acias commanded the last rider, and the rider tore off down the muddy street.
The captain said, “Do I know ye, Lad? You look familiar. You don’t seem to fit in with this folk.” He neared the boy in a slow trot, eyeing him closer. “Your name?”
Jarlith swallowed. He wanted to keep a low profile, especially when speaking with soldiers. He wasn’t a troublemaker. But his parents told him to avoid soldiers, though he wasn’t exactly sure why. “Nay, Sir. I don’t know you. My name is Jarlith.”
“Jarlith… A fine name. I need to warn your neighbors. In less than a few moments, I’ll gather a small force to sail to Jakuri, to get help. There aren’t many young able-bodied men in this village. Would you come aid us? I’m sure they will reward anyone who joins us with a position on the guard.”
“Thank you for the offer, Sir. But I’m happy to follow in my Pa’s work in the fields.”
“Or I’m sure we can pay some coin for your time?”
Amid what was transpiring, he couldn’t think that far into the future. He was willing to help if needed, but he didn’t need to be offered a reward. Jarlith knew the military would force him to help if they wanted. He often hurt rumors that most young men were forced into service at around sixteen cycles. He was grateful he was being asked to help.
“Let me find my Ma, and I’ll meet you if I can.”
“In the Main Square. There’s only time to grab a small rucksack. Quick, Jarlith!”
With that, the captain took off.
By the time Jarlith tugged on his steed’s reins to venture into town, he heard an even louder alarm blaring through the town. His earlier doubts about the presence of an alarm bell were answered, he wished he hadn’t found out by having to hear that ear-shattering blare.
Jarlith rode his galloping mare into town.