A kingdom falls. The wind speaks. People turn mad. One girl at the centre of it all.
|"Quiet, and open your ears. Now I will tell you a tale carried by the wind's own breath. Many variations of this tale appear, but here I will recount the truest of them all. Where to begin? Every storyteller begins differently. Some begin with the lonely mystic and his chance encounter with an exile. Many begin with the Madnesses that shattered an island, while others go further back, to a time when the Thalassan Kingdom still ruled the world's oceans. None, however, disagree that the girl Ali is central to these events, and so I begin where she began - on the night where she departed from the trodden path of her people, and set foot on her own uncertain, fateful voyage.
Listen. The seas were vast, stretching across the horizons and reflecting the moon a thousand times. On such a night, the whole world seemed to glow with the light of a thousand fireflies. Five hundred were the stars below and five hundred were the shimmers of the ocean below, with an unbroken horizon in between.
But what there? A dark mountain rises up, a shadow in this otherwise bright world. It is Thalassa, You may recognise the name, for there was a time when the Thalassan Kingdom ruled the seas. The king, from his palace on the mountain, commanded a myriad ships, and sat at the centre of his magnificent trade empire! The four winds brought his people riches like none of you could imagine, from the soft silks of the east to the strange, subtle perfumes of the west. From the grand port to every corner of Thalassa, people prospered and were happy. It was even said that at night, their lamps outshone both moon and stars. But these times were long before our story takes place. When Ali lived, Thalassa was dark, and silent.
All while Thalassa rose, fell, and fell silent, the smaller island Menoa lived in its shadow, like a child just out of its mother's reach. Two more different islands you will never find. While Thalassans accepted people from afar with open arms, the Menoans shunned trade, and clung to their peaceful but insular ways. Even today Menoans are forbidden to set foot on any other island. Where Thalassa was opulent, Menoa was meagre. Where Thalassa was at the forefront of technology, Menoans stuck with their simple traditions. But while Thalassa perished, Menoa thrived, even when its neighbour across the strait went dark and silent. Still the Menoans survive, though they remain alone on the ocean.
Other than these two islands. the horizons were empty, and the ocean stretched out in every direction. The night was dark and the world was quiet.
However, tonight the incredible happened. From insular Menoa, a boat departed. It began to cross the strait, its rudder turned towards dark Thalassa."
"But why was that so incredible?"
"You will soon learn, young one. Not only was it completely unheard of for a Menoan to leave their home, it was expressly forbidden! Even the fishermen and women were treated as heretics, tolerated only because of tradition and their bountiful traditions. In itself, the act of a Menoan going to Thalassa was completely blasphemous! Yet, as we find with every story, more meaning lies beneath the surface than we first thought. You see, there was only one Menoan aboard - Ali herself. Let me tell you a little more about her and Menoa.
Menoans were governed by the Rites, the near-holy set of laws governing the island. They were passed down Elder to Elder, and enforced by the priesthood. They were a good set of laws, although there were also some peculiar ones. Open every door and cupboard every day. Never drink during a windstorm. Never set foot on Thalassa. One of the most important sections of the Rites discussed the coming-of-age trials.
To come of age and mature into adulthood, a youth must, at their eighteenth summer solstice, breathe their young soul out and let it be carried away on the winds. Their new, adult soul would then arrive on the wind for them to breathe in again, completing their transition into adulthood. But how did the wind know which soul to deliver? The youth would, before the solstice, complete a day of trial in every trade on Menoa, from lowly farming to priesthood. The priests would oversee every trial, and then whisper their findings to the winds. It was supposed to be a fair judging, but it was an unspoken rule that the most important part was listening to the wind.
The town of Menoa was largely small and squat, but the temple was magnificent. It lay in the centre of the town, the only stone building among wooden bungalows with thatched roofs, and rose above them all, its tower ascending to the heavens like an arm reaching to hold the sun. Listening to the wind involved spending a full day at the top of this tower, in the lookout. It was exposed on all four sides and the winds blew through it daily, bringing scraps of news, sometimes voices, sometimes just noises. This was the coming-of-age trial that mattered the most. If you listened well and the priests approved, they would recommend you to the wind - if not, there was no such guarantee.
Each Menoan child learned to strain their ears, listening to every breeze and zephyr in the hopes that the twists of air would whisper to them - and as they grew, they began to hear. They heard the cries of distant shipwrecks, the private triumphs of faraway people, the gentle roars of emotions that carried across the world. Naturally some were better than others.
But to Ali, the winds did not speak at all."