Orlaf turned with a wild look in his eye "The profits? Ha, ha, ha! The profits he says!"
|Woken before dawn to the creaks and groans of the structure swaying in the strong wind Sheridan Washburn was certainly not pleased. He'd been up late the evening before - staying too long at the tavern and neglecting the duties of the following day. Now the strong wind shook him out of his straw mattress, completely upending the maple-wood bed frame. Standing to his feet Sheridan dashed for the small window facing the broad western sea.
Below him Sheridan watched the small village of Port Merevalin come alive with activity for such a late hour. The sleepy island village was one of the first ports for returning captains, and served them well with a variety of taverns and modest inns. This was also one of the first lines of defense for Independence.
Ships that wished to gain entrance to the waters surrounding Independence had to pass the watchful eyes of the two tiny islands perched at her northern border. This lookout vantage point had served the island nation well in it's war torn past. But as of late, the quiet charms of island living drew more priests and artists than rugged mariners.
Now the bell towers sounded and echoed off the mountain peaks of the island. Signal fires lit high on the peaks to alert the main land of a significant threat. The villagers fled their cottages, taverns, inns, and ships to cluster in the village square. Sheridan collected his things and bolted down the stairs. Through the empty darkness of his small general goods shop, he navigated with the ease and precision of one who has intimate familiarity with their surroundings.
"Tie down carts, storage bins, and anything you want to try and save! Loose your horses and cattle - we'll recover the livestock together if we survive this ourselves!" yelled a large man standing on the edge of the fountain central to the deed. Sheridan drew closer, the wind picking up and whipping his hair into his face with force. The gusts of wind continued to gain strength and with instinct the people of Port Merevalin leaned deeper into the gale.
Within moments of assembling at the square, while the tower bells were still ringing, the first of the signal flames began to flicker. A thick curtain of rain was pulled over the town like the thunderous cascade of a massive waterfall. Drenched in an instant Sheridan stood his ground and awaited further instructions. So far this appeared to be only a severe Nor'Wester, but the urgency and fear in the man's voice raised alarms in Sheridan's mind. The torrent of rain painted everything it touched with a glossy black film that set an eerie starkness to the scene. And with another gust of hurricane force wind a deep moan and splintering crack deafened the villagers.
The bell tower on the southern edge of town had cracked at it's main base and was tumbling down into the nearby small stone church. The giant bell seemed to fall slowly, and the man responsible for ringing the bell floated behind with a look of terror painted across his face. They crashed into the slate roof of the church, followed by silence. Sheridan had prayed at the altars there many times, and received words of encouragement from the priests from time to time. It appeared the storm was indeed significant.
Lightning exploded and lit up the sky in a volley of light and darkness. The rapid flashing blinded the people momentarily. The thunder reverberated through the hills and cascaded down the mountain sides, loosening boulders and sending them tumbling into the streets below. Carts were crushed and houses bowled over like a child's playthings smashed so easily by a passing bully.
People began to scatter and secure what they could manage as the storm did it's best to rip their meager possessions directly from their grasping hands. What Sheridan saw next was a vision that would continue to haunt him for years to come. The bell towers had become silent - abandoned by their caretakers for the relative safety of the streets. The massive signal fires had all died out - last emblazoned at the first signs of a long forgotten war. The ground below his feet began to tremble, and the deep rumble of thunder was joined in chorus by an even deeper, more sinister growl. Through the deepest darkness of night, made blacker by the thick clouds and pelting rain, Sheridan saw a mountain rising out of the sea.
Far off the coast - far out to sea - the foam and whitecaps of a massive wave gathered in a solid white line at the peak of a mountain of water. And the mountain was moving toward the island. Sheridan called out to anyone able to hear him, as he turned and ran for the other end of the island. The likelihood of out running that tsunami was slim, but his body forced his mind to quell logical rejections and fight for it's survival instead. So he and a few others fled.
The blur of fear and fight for survival blended the next several hours into a wash of images, sounds, and nightmare-memories. Those that survived the storm by some miracle were now left to rebuild the village. That overwhelming task would be undertaken once the grisly chore of collecting, and burying the dead was completed. Loved ones, friends, and acquaintances were among the dead. In a hamlet this small - everyone knew everyone - and the entire island was devastated. Drawing lots, Orlaf Ulnish was selected to take a small craft that survived and head for the mainland with their news. Hopefully he would return soon with help and aid.
Sheridan was on hand at the tavern when Orlaf Ulnish returned. Orlaf was a hired hand who found work were he could around town from time to time. When he wasn't working the young man was usually off on small hunting trips into the hills and mountains of his home island. From time to time he could be seen attempting to court one of Port Merevalin's young beauties around the central fountain. Now, Orlaf looked as if he'd aged fifteen years in a matter of weeks.
Staggering into the tavern with an unsteady step, Orlaf took a seat at the first table near the door. He never waved a hand, or even looked anyone in the eye, but a plate of food and tankard of ale was set before him. He tore into it greedily before someone shouted out "Blast it man! Come out with it! What of the main land? Will they send help?"
Orlaf dropped his wooden fork and it rattled on the thick oaken table. His plate was all but cleared already. He grabbed the tankard and drank deeply. Wiped his unkempt mustache and beard with the back of his leather tunic, and looked up at the gathering crowd in the bar.
"They'll not be sending aid." He hesitated. His eyes began to glaze over again. "They'll not be able." Another long and dramatic pause. Orlaf opened his mouth. Shut it. Thought a moment. And spoke. "It's all destroyed. Everything is gone ... by Fo, everything ... is ... completely ... gone."
Gasps spread through the small room, followed by whispers echoing Orlaf's strange statements. Over the next few hours his story was drawn out one tiny piece at a time by several patrons. When the entire tale was told it was a tome of tragedy and terrifying reality.
As the mainlanders, sailors, and scribes Orlaf met could best determine, a devastating shift had occurred in their world. As it was explained to him, Orlaf did his best to relay, the massive formation known as Dragon's Beard had broken apart. The sea storm sitting at what was believed to be the edge of their world was no more. A fixture on maps and in legends, having been held in place for centuries, was spiraling around the globe in four or more massive mega-storms.
The mega-storm which swept across the landscape of Independence was only one known result of Dragon's Beard shearing itself into pieces. The entity moved quickly destroying massive structures, felling whole forests, and extinguishing most life in it's path. Orlaf explained the wind of change which swept over Independence was reported on Deliverance, Exodus, Celebration, Chaos, Desertion, Affliction, Serenity, and Elevation as well. Any surviving structures were left with their interiors exposed to the elements - their roofs blown into memory.
Orlaf finished a fifth flagon of ale and began to laugh aloud. Drawing stares from patrons around the pub, and a few glances of sinister intent, but he continued his tale loudly. "Aye, they won't be comin' to help the likes of us. We've too long been at the fringes of their society anyway... Nay! They'll be too busy mates..."
Sheridan Washburn, who had stayed close by Orlaf to hear the entirety of his telling leaned in now and asked, "Why won't they send help, Orlaf? Of course they'll be busy themselves with rebuilding - but some will come. A few will bring trade and supplies. Even if merely to turn a profit on misery."
Orlaf turned with a wild look in his eye and stared at Sheridan. "The profits? Ha, ha, ha! The profits he says! My friend - the profits are not in the rebuilding. The profits will be in exploration, settlement, and mining on the new islands of Pristine and Release revealed in the bowels of that dying devil - the Dragon's Beard!"