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God of Storms

The lighthouse, seen from the sky, looked to Sionn like a lit candle stuck in the sand. Nessa gave a low growl, her wings beating faster to speed past it. "Easy," Sionn said. Though the wind drowned his voice, the thought had reached the whistler, and her feathered shoulders loosened. A crude but useful magic, mindspeech.

Through the mist beyond the lighthouse emerged two shorter towers, both topped by a trebuchet. Beyond them, sand the color of bone, then water the color of iron, then the cliffs that made the cove's mouth. Spread between them stood the wall. Sionn had seen dead fish less grey.

As Nessa descended to land, three more trebuchets took shape along the barrier, eight purple-cloaked figures around each. The trebuchet slings held sealed barrels as big as a man. She landed, in typical whistler style, next to the farthest right engine, the crowd hardly flinching from the gusts thrown by her wings.

Grounded, Sionn pulled down his scarf. "I'm here to—"

"Quiet," snapped a purplecloak.

Nessa raised her head towards the ocean. Waves pounded the base of the barrier, but the wind was weaker out of the sky. A stink like last week's stew left out in the sun reached Sionn, and it took him a moment to spy its source on the horizon: a mess of flesh and teeth, in appearance like a twisted rope of seaweed, rolling about in the tide, flanked by massive plumes of salt spray. It looked to be as long as five—perhaps six—longships. It rolled under, spreading mist into the stony sky.

The soldiers waited. Stillness. One of them turned to Sionn. "You're the tamer?"

"Not the best word," Sionn answered, starting to undo the straps around his torso and legs to free himself from the saddle. "Aye, though." They weren't hoping he'd work on that leviathan, were they?

The soldier said to a fellow, "Get the captain." He turned back to Sionn. "The courier tell you what you're in for?"

Sionn climbed down to solid earth, stretched his petrified legs and back. "Getting one beastie to deal with another." Right away it hadn't struck him as the soundest plan, but the coin couldn't be denied. He straightened and nodded to the ocean. "Take it that was one."

"Aye." The man's eyes wandered to Nessa, who panted back at him. Whistlers preferred the south, so it was doubtful he'd ever seen such a beast, like a huge and winged wolfhound. "He tell you anything about 'em?"

Sionn glanced back at the water. "Not enough."

The other soldier returned with the captain, a wrinkled grey bear of a man.

"Tamer?" the captain asked, waspy voice at odds with his tangled beard.

"Sionn Dunn of Port Nuadh." He hastily added, "Sir."

 "Just Artair," the captain replied. He nodded to Nessa. "You must be apt to tame a whistler."

"Tame isn't the best word. I only talk to them."

"Ah, mindspeech." Artair nodded, furrowing his brow. "You can do it?"

Sionn tugged back his hood. "I can." He'd first practiced on mum's chickens—shallow creatures with shallow minds—then on cleverer beasts like ravens and hounds. By taking his time and combining conventional training with the magic, he gained their trust and learned patience. Nessa had been a months-long project, but she came around.

Artair jerked his thumb over his shoulder. "I'll tell you what we've got, then."

The beasties, called Uilebheist or Ullies, were a menace long in the making.

Around a century ago, said Artair as he led Sionn along the wall, invaders from the north raised their swords to the Violet Isle. They thought to land at Taraghlan Cove—the same cove now walled off by the Fishnet, as the wall was known—to strike at Glenfarris, the town not far south. The enemy fleet appeared gathered around a single tiny craft. The townsfolk, fearing that Taraghlan would be vulnerable, attacked, sinking the small craft and scattering its escorts.

What seemed then to matter most was that the attack had been repelled, not what that boat contained. Yet it must have contained some powerful enchantment, mused Artair, for fifty years later, the first Uilebheist sloughed out of the ocean and made for Glenfarris.

Artair pulled a bundle of eight scrolls from his cloak. "Here's all the Ullies we've met so far," he explained as he went through them, handing Sionn two. "This one's been bold lately," he said of one called the Stoorworm, whose serpentine shape and seaweed color matched the thing on the horizon. "It's shown up near daily for the past year. Last month it came right up to the Fishnet and tried to knacker the trebuchets."

He pointed to another called Lirgara, a beast halfway between a bear and a whale. "And here's our lad. It took the Isle's whole army to chase the first Ully back into the sea. I wager the only thing that'll kill one is another."

Sionn studied both creatures. At the edge of each portrait was a miniscule figure of a man, hardly more than a smudge of black. That would make Lirgara's eye as big as a grown man. "Why isn't the whole Isle defended like Taraghlan?"

Artair scratched his nose. "We'd have to level every mountain and tree on the Isle to have enough material. There's ships which dump potions into the coasts to keep them away, so His Highness assures me."

"And if the Fishnet fails?"

"Remember that mountain you flew over to get here? That's Ben Farra. The High King is sure the Ullies can't cross it." The big man gave a rueful grin. "Nor can many traders. We get most of our supplies from Glenfarris." He pointed to the lighthouse. "So we keep them focused here with that. They spend most of their time in the deep. Light makes them curious." Next he rapped his knuckles on the base of a trebuchet. "That's where these come in. The barrels are full of potion, goes up like hellfire. Doesn't hurt 'em, but it scares 'em off."

Sionn balked. "And that's worked for fifty years?"

"Aye."

"They can't be that daft." Only desperation or illness could make an animal form such a habit. Sionn couldn't deny a pang of pity.

Artair shrugged. "Seems they are." He handed Sionn the two scrolls of import. "Now I've a report to write. Anything you'll need is in the camp below. You start tomorrow at dawn." Off he went.

Sionn squinted at the scrolls again. If only he could read them. Instead he could only look at the illustrations and feel unprepared. What a job to feel unprepared for, he thought. Every child on the Isle was raised with stories of sea monsters that swallowed ships whole. His father, a fisherman, had never given such tales credence. But there were no stories here. Just wood creaking in a salt-heavy wind, flanked by hooded men watching an iron sea.

The Ullies were most active in the darker hours, and flying at night took a death wish, so Sionn waited until dawn before leading Nessa out to the wooden landing platform built on one of the cliffs, connected by a rickety set of stairs. "What did Artair say again?" Sionn asked as he finished brushing ice from Nessa's feathers. Her tail thumped against the wood.

He stuck up his thumb. "If we see an Ully and it's any bigger than this, we're too close." It would be strenuous to reach that far for long, but it would be manageable in spurts. Sionn brushed off the last of the ice, then climbed aboard and strapped into the saddle. Nessa's wings spread like tapestries of brown forests, and he braced against his seat as she pushed off. The platform fell away, then the cliffs. The Fishnet became a branch on the beach. Then, ocean.

It wasn't long before scanning the silvery expanse began to sting Sionn's eyes. The heavy rhythm of Nessa's wings muffled the wind, but his cloak couldn't thwart the cold. Then, progress; waves creased the water's surface, white scratches across glass.

He followed the line to where it slanted away from him, then followed that to where they met a spear point with a mirrored disturbance. A large V wake, and within it were three smaller wakes. Whales. He compared them to his thumb. Hardly the size of the nail.

As Sionn wondered if he'd arrived too late, the water beneath the whales darkened. A bulge rose beneath one, and the black back of the animal lifted into the air. The ocean erupted and a long dark muzzle nearly as large as the whale snapped it up. Meal secured, the behemoth dove. A black blade of a dorsal fin arched forward, followed by a thick tail and fluke not unlike a whale's itself. Lirgara.

Lightning through his heart, Sionn bid Nessa, climb, and leaned back into his seat as the whistler angled upwards. He sent his mind below, seeking Lirgara's. Thought alone wouldn't go far, but he could get the monster's attention. First, he met a fuzzy miasma, like burying his face in the pelt of a dead animal: the fear of the scattering whales. Then, he fell.

Touching Lirgara's mind was like falling off a house into a bog. At once, a headache burst in his skull, and he bid Nessa to fly lower to reduce the strain. Within the beast's mind Sionn found vague notions to grab at, fleeting hunger, an anger too aged to identify, but nothing he could use. Then the mud began to boil. Agitation. At him? he wondered. No, Lirgara had yet to acknowledge him.

A bark from Nessa pulled him from mindspace. Her ears were flat against her head. Water roared and crashed, yet Lirgara still swam too far below to be so loud. The stink that greeted their arrival yesterday engulfed him, joined by a chorus of groans like old wood. Disengaging Lirgara, he leaned out to look down.

Below Nessa was the black of a night sky. Four masses of stone crashed shut– broad stubby mandibles. Above that, five skinny trees— antennae— waved atop a broad, skeletal head the colour of gangrene. Nowhere on that head could Sionn make out eyes. Framing it were a pair of pincers like gnarled trees, swinging open after just scarcely missing Nessa. The head fell away towards the water, trailing with it the creaking insect coils of the Stoorworm.

Sionn spurred Nessa back towards Taraghlan. The wind whistled sharper as they ascended and banked into a wide turn. Were they high enough? The Stoorworm twisted to follow, its body a fat black vein under the surface. Sionn gasped aloud, "Faster, higher!"

Nessa panted, her back muscles jostling the seat as her wings beat harder. Too slowly, the cliffs rose ahead. The wind raked across his eyes, unaccustomed to such speed. Bits of his consciousness dragged behind them.

Another mind grabbed at them like fish jumping after flies. Though as vast as Lirgara's, this one had a clear focus: a predator chasing its prey. At last the Fishnet rose into visibility. The Stoorworm relented and fell away.

The wind flagged as Nessa fell upon the landing platform. She slumped down, panting. Numb now, Sionn unhooked himself and fumbled down to earth. The world spun. He shut his eyes.

Boots thumped up the stairs. Artair's voice asked, "How'd you do?"

"We..." Sionn fought a surge of nausea. "I wasn't prepared."

Artair was quiet a moment. Then, hardly any louder, he said, "Try again tomorrow."

Sionn had requested a space in the hills a short walk from the Fishnet to set his camp. In his eight years of work he'd seen some of the remotest hamlets on the Isle. Often these offered simple tasks, warding away a pack of wolves or leading lost sheep home. Once, a settlement deep in a glen hired him to lure a bear to slaughter for a religious festival. The memory still found him on cold nights.

Memories didn't pay, however. Recomposed from the morning's debacle, he recounted coins in his tent. With this job's pay added, it would make a respectable sum. Almost enough. Outside, Nessa growled. "I'll leave it to you," Sionn answered. Typically he'd get jobs from travellers passing through town. After this he'd stop in Glenfarris…

Nessa barked. Sionn stashed the money and went out. The whistler, muzzle bloodied by a deer carcass donated by the purplecloaks, stared out onto the hills. Some yards away a hooded figure hurried past towards the cove. Its cloak wasn't purple. "Hey," Sionn called out. The figure didn't stop. He quickly donned his cloak and sword belt and pursued.

He followed to where the hills began to slope down into the cove. Once they reached the stony walls, the figure ducked into a nook in the rock and disappeared. Sionn had to search a moment before he found a small tunnel through the stone, just big enough to fit through. Cramped though it looked, he was intrigued now. Squeezing in, he crawled a few dark minutes before seeing light at the end. He squinted into the opening and spied thin bare legs awhirl in dance. Another minute and he was close enough to see a young woman, barely clad in blue linen and strips of dried seaweed, chestnut hair spread like wings in her undulating dance. Sionn emerged and processed the images before him.

"One moment," said the woman. Her arms wove tidal patterns.

"No hurry." He took in the round chamber, the air thick with salt and seaweed. Sea shells were stuck to the walls with clay. Sunlight filled the space through the open ceiling. A bowl of seawater and discarded cloak were set on the ground next to her.

 The woman pivoted to a stop, panting faintly. "Swords aren't permitted in holy places," she said.

"Pleased to meet you, too." Sionn gave his name and hand.

Despite her frown, she took his hand. Her fingers were soft but her grip was firm enough. "Muireall."

"You're from Glenfarris?"

"I am." She reached into her cloak and pulled out a needle. "I've not seen you before."

"I was hired from the southwest."

She blinked at him. "Ah. You're here to talk to the monsters."

"Aye." Artair hadn't said what people in Glenfarris knew about the Fishnet. Sionn had never heard of it back home.

"And I speak to their masters." She pricked the needle into her belly, left it there until blood beaded around the point. "My gran came here weekly after the first attack. She stopped after the town was rebuilt, but she never stopped talking about it. The ocean is full of gods."

Sionn felt no need to hear about her masters. "You've heard the Stoorworm's been acting up, then."

"I'd heard things were going poorly." Muireall collected her blood on a fingertip and pressed it onto one of the shells. "I don't know why the wall men didn't come to me. I work for free."

"My work is a process. Yours is hope." Sionn knew little about her sea gods, but he knew the Four Smiths who Forged the World had indeed forged the world; he lived there. He had no use for them beyond that, though.

"Not hope alone." She dropped the needle into a sack in the corner, then dabbed saltwater onto the pinprick with the hem of her cloak. "The gods have a method, and we're starting to keen it. Take that we used to offer them sacrifice."

"On a hope." If he were superstitious, Sionn would think they still wanted sacrifice.

She pulled her cloak on. "Don't you hope the beasties don't go around the wall?"

"Certainly. I won't trouble over the thought unless they do, though."

"We only do what we must, aye?" Muireall tittered to herself. "I dance because sacrifice isn't always needed. Sometimes the gods can be reasoned with. But sometimes they can't."

Sionn's back stiffened. "I know."

Perhaps sensing she'd pressed a bruise, Muireall pulled up her hood. "Health to you."

Sionn raised his palm. "I've a question."

"Quickly. I keep a shop."

"Which of us do you figure is helping more?"

She patted her belly. "The one who bleeds more."

The next four days passed in knots. On the first morning, Sionn asked Artair over breakfast if he was aware of Muireall.

"There was such a woman after Glenfarris was destroyed," he answered. "She stopped after the town was rebuilt."

"Her granddaughter's taken it up now."

Artair's wrinkles deepened. "Needless," he muttered.

It was the first sunny day Sionn had seen since his arrival. They found no trace of Lirgara. At one point, a jagged red carapace surfaced below them. An Ully, but not the right one. They stayed out for an hour or so before he noticed the dark length of the Stoorworm closing in. The second and third days it rained too fiercely to fly. The skies cleared again the fourth morning. After a couple hours, Lirgara's fin surfaced to the east. As Nessa approached, Sionn reached his mind out to the behemoth.

Realizing he'd underestimated the Ullies, Sionn had resolved not to be so careless again. Though he braced this time, Lirgara's mind still proved precarious in its vastness and indifference. He sought purchase but found only withered anger. He probed around it, not wanting to enrage the beast. After a few minutes, he discerned stony tiredness, simmering loneliness, other things too old and alien to interpret. Suddenly awareness jolted in.

Below, a dark head broke the surface. Nessa licked her nose. Lirgara was looking at them.

Sionn scrambled for a token to bargain with. Lirgara wasn't hungry. But fatigue made a sinkhole in his mind like an empty grave. He sent Lirgara the memory of the Stoorworm's attack. Irritation bubbled in the monster's mind. Common ground. Then Sionn sent an image of two hounds fighting, one forcing the other to the ground: kill. A cool trace of consideration. Lirgara understood. Kill the Stoorworm. Next Sionn sent a feeling, the warm pleasant fog of a good night's sleep: kill the Stoorworm so you can rest. Numbness flooded Sionn. Indifference.

Nessa yelped and veered to the right. In the rush, Sionn saw nothing, but once the whistler straightened out he noticed coils in the waves. He sent to Lirgara, Stoorworm here. Lirgara didn't care.

Cursing both beasts, Sionn disengaged and spurred Nessa faster. Soon the Fishnet was in sight. From the wall came a deep thrum. A trebuchet lurched, arm arching in a throw. The Stoorworm hadn't stopped. It surged into shallower water, its wake crashing against the cliffs—the ocean erupted with an all-devouring plume of white, the boom battering Sionn's ears like openhand slaps. He felt shock in his bones as a white veil fell over his eyes and his hearing faded to ringing.

Reeling, Sionn pulled his scarf over his face as Nessa descended. Through vertigo and the bells in his ears he heard Artair's voice but couldn't make out words. A shudder went through the seat as Nessa touched down. Artair kept shouting. Finally the ringing died enough that Sionn lowered the scarf. Artair stood at Nessa's flank, eyes bugging from their nets of wrinkles. "Lirgara, what happened with Lirgara?"

Sionn blinked the stars from his aching eyes. "He isn't interested."

Sionn had hoped to take Nessa for a flight over Ben Farris that afternoon, let her stretch her wings and put himself at ease. There were no gods or coins in the sky. But a growl from the whistler around noon brought him out of his tent. Coming down the road past his camp, two purplecloaks walked with a shorter figure. He spied Muireall's curls. Once they'd passed, Sionn sought out Artair's quarters.

"She wasn't up to anything foul," Sionn argued, eyes watering in the smoky atmosphere. "She was dancing."

"In her skivvies in a cave, and then bleeding herself." Artair took a long drag on his pipe and snorted smoke. He sat at his desk, studying a scroll of an Uilebheist. Harpoons and dented shields hung on his walls and the dirt on his window diluted the sunlight. "First thing the folk wanted to do after the first attack was feed someone to beast. They settled for dancing after the High King outlawed human sacrifice."

"Muireall gave you the 'gods are cruel' yarn as well?"

"She did. We would've let her off if she hadn't, too. Can't have her brewing hysteria, nor can we have her killing herself. We're keeping her until your job is done." He was seized then by a coughing fit. Once it ran its course, his face only got redder. "Once they'd have tied a lass to a raft and kicked her out to sea to either waste away or be eaten by sharks. This girl could feed herself to an Ully, but that would be like me eating a single oat." He rose to throw the window open. Wind began to suck out the smoke.

Darkness gathered in Artair's wrinkles. They looked nearly like text, and for once Sionn thought he could read it. "You say this as though you've seen it."

The old captain's brow hardened. "I didn't hire you to hear my sad stories. But if you're going to pry, I was nine when Glenfarris was attacked."

An unbearable, wintery quiet filled the room. Sionn broke it, asking where Muireall was being kept. Artair answered grudgingly.

Muireall's lodgings were a hole dug into the earth at the base of Artair's tower. Round as a barrel and hardy bigger, it contained a bedroll in the center of the floor with an empty bowl and flagon next to it. Muireall leaned against the wall, swaddled in her cloak and picking at the dirt. She asked icily, "What did you tell them?"

"I told them you were about. What did you say?"

She turned a pointed gaze on him, fine brow knitted. "That you might fail. What then?"

Sionn met her eyes. "You'll dance, it won't work, and then people will die."

Muireall turned her body to face his. "Perhaps, but we can't deny the gods."

He stifled a scoff. "Forgive if I have no faith in gods that eat people."

"See, you've missed the point as well!" Her voice bit into him. "The old gods don't need our love. If you read the records, there's never been much fondness for them."

"I can't read."

She seemed to chew on that, but continued. "The sacrifice was less to please the gods than to humble us. It would stain everyone's conscious, either for participating or enabling it. No one would be innocent. It reminded us of the true nature of the world, and of our place in it." Muireall framed his face between her hands. "And why would they want to humble us now? Does the High King not neglect his smallfolk?"

Fair point against the King aside, Sionn had to ask, "Why did Glenfarris need to be humbled fifty years ago?"

Her lips worked for an answer that wouldn't come. She muttered, "At least understand that I don't want anyone to die either."

"I didn't think you did."

"Your captain does." Muireall's thin face strained into a grin. "What are you doing?"

"The Ullies aren't gods," he began, eager to give his mind. "They're animals. They want to eat or sleep or so on. The Stoorworm attacks because it's hungry. If Artair had any sense he'd want me to try to talk to it, convince it there's easier prey elsewhere. But he likes his trebuchets and his harpoons, so instead I'm to convince another beast to kill it."

 "And what's the coin to you?" she asked, as if his explanation had been a challenge.

Sionn wanted to say the gods are cruel, but went on. "I'm from Port Nuadh. Know of it?"

She shook her head.

"It's a fishing village on the southwest coast. Not much there, especially not coin. Mum and Pa decided they wanted better for me. Wizards are paid well, so they hired one passing through to teach me what he could. I'd hoped that'd be to conjure fire or raise the dead, but all he knew was how to speak to animals. It took time for me to appreciate that."

"He asked more than they can afford," she guessed.

"Wasn't done," he snapped, then tempered himself. "But yes, wizards are also greedy bastards. Fishing wouldn't cover it, so Pa looked at other options. These brought armed thugs to our door every so often looking for trouble. Once I was good enough, I used what I'd learned to do odd jobs, help him along."

"It's working, then."

"Insofar as Pa's still alive, aye. I'm still paying his debts."

A derisive curl of her lips. "Can't he do that himself?"

Slowly, to keep calm, "He'd need both legs to still be working."

She nodded, but it was her widened eyes that said she was finally getting it. "I'll pray for him."

"Mum already does." An anger he'd not known in years bubbled up his throat. He wanted to hide away in a remote crag where no human voice could reach. He turned to go.

"I'll pray for you as well," she called from the shadows. "For both our sakes."

The next morning's rain lightened to a drizzle by the time Sionn finished breakfast. Nessa wouldn't like it, but she'd be able to fly. Water worried him less than what was under it. Lirgara's anger was familiar, but not in an animal. An animal would have a flash of rage at being denied a meal or having its territory contested. Lirgara's anger was the sort which simmered for years over cheap ale and dirty blades. Sionn had shared this with Artair over breakfast. The captain replied, "We've not time enough for fear. You especially."

A mild breeze wrinkled the water as Nessa took off. Velocity sharpened the drizzle to needles across Sionn's face. Nessa glided a while, then slowed to a hover. The last of Sionn's grogginess dispersed. He scanned the water. Grey under them. Grey to their left and right. Nessa barked and pumped her wings to ascend.

Just ahead, blackness laced through silver. The Stoorworm exploded from the bay, mandibles parting for the void of its gullet. But Nessa had already climbed too high and its pincers swung shut well beneath them.

A trebuchet hummed. Nessa lurched forward with a speed that shoved Sionn's eyes back into his skull. From behind them, explosions cuffed his ears as the world brightened in a flash. He glanced back. The Stoorworm, undeterred, dove on into the curtain of smoke and spray. It hadn't been trying to ambush them. It had been trying to get the trebuchets to fire. How long did they take to reload? Nessa surged towards open water as another blast shattered the morning.

The sky blackened over the open sea. Nessa quivered and Sionn sent her thoughts of fresh venison and a warm fire. Where was Lirgara? Inhaling deeply, Sionn reached down below the water. Cold emptiness engulfed him as though he'd dunked his head in, and drumbeats began to pulse in his skull. He bid Nessa to descend. With a whimper, she nosed down until they could smell the salt coming off the waves. The headache weakened, as did the wind at this lower altitude. A hot presence brushed past his temple. Sionn latched on and fell into a familiar chasm. Lirgara felt close. Looking out on the sea, he spotted darker water to the east.

Pulse drumming his throat, Sionn probed the beast's mind and found the familiar indifference. But still embedded there, like a half-buried weapon, was that unnatural anger. Though too distorted with age to understand, Sionn knew he could engage it… What might the beast do if provoked? And could he provoke it?

Across the water came the crack of artillery.

Sionn gripped the sides of his seat and took hold of Lirgara's fury. It filled him like strong drink, bitter in his mouth and fogging his brain. You are angry, he told Lirgara.

Lirgara remained unmoved.

Sionn sent the image of the Worm lunging, its stink of illness. You are angry at the Stoorworm.

Lirgara cared nothing of the Stoorworm.

Sionn tightened his hold around the saddle's edge until his fingers ached. Every bit of rage he'd held in his heart and mind he poured out to Lirgara now. Stubbing a toe on a rock. Coaxing bears to their deaths. People whose hearts are larger than their minds. Sionn felt Lirgara respond to that last thought, so with frothing abandon, he sent him every beating he'd watched his father receive, every dour job he'd done, every year he'd lived in the shadow of obligation.

Lirgara stirred, then settled. Sionn's rage was not enough. It would take something more. Something… personal. Sionn dug back into Lirgara's mind, into the chasm of vague anger buried deep in the center of the creature's being.

Anger, hatred, rage spread like fire through his mind, gripping his heart. Pain, unlike he had ever experienced. Still he sifted through the cold hard mud of years. From it, inch by inch, emerged a canine skull. Mangled neck vertebra leading to wide shoulder blades to long dense tail. Limbs ending in hooked claws. It looked as Lirgara's skeleton might, yet Lirgara lived while this creature's neck appeared snapped.

As though by powerful pincers.

To Lirgara's conscious mind Sionn said, with tears stinging his own eyes, "The Worm has taken someone from you."

The chasm filled with fire, with the erupting agony of bones melting together, shattering, reassembling, years of eating any flesh no matter how beloved to survive, of watching the sun drift ever further away as its light became daggers. The ocean began to churn like a stew at boil. Sionn took all the rage, loneliness, grief, and fear, and pinned it to one origin: Stoorworm.

A blade fin pierced the surface, saltwater gushing from the wound. Nessa, sensing wrath, sped back towards the Fishnet. Around them the wind swirled with new vigor and the rain grew to a downpour.

Ahead the wall grew, tails of smoke streaking the dark sky. Hardly obscured by the rain, the dark length of the Stoorworm slithered along the base of the wall. Nessa banked towards the cliffs and climbed into the rain. For all the tempest raged, it couldn't muffle the groan of the Worm's shell.

Nessa fell onto the landing platform with a speed which made Sionn's stomach lurch. She'd gone into a panic, tail between her legs and yipping over the gale. Whether she trusted him or not, Sionn realized, he couldn't have prepared her for this. He leapt down to calm her when an undulation caught the corner of his eye.

The downpour blurred the twisting figure, but after a moment he recognized Muireall. She was trying to dance but the cold made her tremble, her attire offering no protection. Over the rain and chaos he shouted at her, "What in hell are you doing?"

Her eyes bugged towards the wall. "One moment."

He began, "We have to go—"

Like an arrow in flight she cut in, "Everyone else ran. I need to try."

"Lirgara is coming!"

She glanced out at the open water, then spun gracelessly. "I see nothing."

As she spoke, the Stoorworm battered its armored head against the wall. Its shape was clearer, barbs and algae lining its exoskeleton. Stones roared concession and fell into the encampment behind.

From over the water came a sound like a war horn that smoothed to a violin before ending in a final explosive huff. All stopped. Even the Stoorworm paused to lift its head. The tide rumbled as it rolled back from around its coils. Sionn followed it out towards the sea, to a great fin storming towards Taraghlan. Around it the water gathered to a great wave which thundered into the cove, shaking the cliffs. Sionn and Muireall grabbed onto each other to stay standing.

The Stoorworm, trapped, was smashed against the wall. For a moment, only that fin could be seen in the boiling surf. Then the water receded, and a great canine head emerged, its jaws around the Stoorworm's neck. The Worm thrashed, and a paw with claws like stone archways wrestled it still. The other creature reared up on his hind legs, stance like a bear's and towering well above the wall, silvery pelt mottled with black and red scar tissue. A stink like wet dog filled the air.

Lirgara had come.

The Stoorworm sank its mandibles into Lirgara's paw. He gave a pained huff, letting the Worm wriggle free into the twisting surf. The other behemoth followed his prey's wake, muzzle curled in a snarl.

Nessa barked as the cliff began to shake again. The Stoorworm's antennae rose into the sky. It turned back, mandibles creaking a challenge. With another trumpet that blurred vision and threatened to rupture ears, Lirgara fell to all fours and began to charge.

Muireall squeaked. Sionn grabbed her and hurled her atop Nessa before climbing up himself, putting one arm around her waist while he held onto the saddle with the other. With a grunt of effort Nessa pushed off towards the opposite cliff. She banked around Lirgara, his fin like a ship's mast.

The Stoorworm lunged at Lirgara, but too late. He barreled into the cliff and collapsed it in a landslide that caught both creatures.

Nessa landed awkwardly on the opposite cliff. Behind them, the Worm had one of Lirgara's legs in its coils and struck up at him, but he swatted its head away. "He's winning," Sionn cried, hoarse with awe.

"Get us off these damned cliffs!" Muireall snapped.

A fine idea, but Nessa panted hard. The whistler needed a moment. Lirgara bellowed again, then was cut short. Muireall and Sionn glanced back, gawking, thrill turning to horror.

The Stoorworm had its coils around Lirgara's neck, clawing at its head. The Worm struck at the offending limb, pincers catching his arm. His sapphire eyes gaped in silent pain. Another coil around his leg held him in place. Above, the clouds blackened to charcoal, pulsing with lightning. A bolt cracked down to the tip of Lirgara's dorsal fin. He weathered it without a flinch. The Stoorworm did not. It convulsed, a singed odor filling the wind as it sloughed off into the water. Lirgara sucked in breath. The Worm rose again only to be swatted down.

Lirgara seized the Worm with both paws as it thrashed and snapped, antennae whipping at nothing but salty air. The bigger creature bit into its neck to hold it still. A second bolt struck his fin, then a third and fourth, white static coursing along his arms to flow into his prey.

The burnt meat stink worsened as the Stoorworm writhed. Its antennae caught fire, tracing orange through the dark as they wavered. A deep hum rose over the wind before ending in a wet crunch, and the Worm's shell cracked open. Smoke billowed from the wounds as it shuddered and went limp. Lirgara released the corpse to crash into the water. Raising his head to the scorched sky, he gave another bellow that faded to song whose last note was a blast. Then, he turned back to the sea.

The clouds thinned, admitting fingers of sunlight. The rain weakened to a drizzle. Muireall cursed under her breath.

Sionn, unsteadied, reached once more to Lirgara but found, again, indifference. Inside it, however, something had changed. The anger had smoothed, subsided. Whether it had only been sated for now or if Lirgara had found some peace, he couldn't say. The beast lunged into the deep and began to submerge, fin slipping away before falling away into the distance. His wake emanated back to the wall and gently broke.

"Praises," Muireall said, voice low in reverence.

"To him and me both, I hope," Sionn added. Awesome as the spectacle had been, Lirgara wouldn't have come on his own.

"Praise yourself," Muireall answered, tugging his cloak off to wrap around herself. "I thank the gods for sending him."

This didn't irk Sionn, but he couldn't let the misunderstanding linger. "I had to convince him," he explained. "He's tired, Muireall. It's as if just existing hurts him."

"I'd expect so." The breeze tugged her hair about her beaming face. "Having been neglected for so long! The gods don't need love, but how can they survive without acknowledgement?"

"Not like that." Sionn told her of Lirgara's memories. "He wasn't always this way. He wasn't always alone."

She squinted. "What mortal animal can wield lightning, though?"

"Well…" Sionn had to give her that.

Yet she didn't gloat. Instead she asked, "You'll have your coin after this?"

Sunlight danced on the waves as the sky paled. "Almost," Sionn replied. "A couple more jobs still."

Comfortable again, she asked, "Then back to your pa's fishing ship?"

Good as it would be to clear Pa's debts, Sionn also longed to be free. Mum still worked, so what obligation would there be to hold at home? How could he settle there with the world open to him, and when it wouldn't be only his memories haunting him? He would know that Lirgara lingered, pain his only companion. He'd looked deeply into Lirgara's soul, seen too much of the creature's sorrows, to let him be alone again. At last Sionn answered, "I'll come back here."

Up over the cliffs rolled a last distant rumble of thunder.

About the Author
Kieran McKiel is a poet and fiction writer from Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. He is currently studying Creative Writing at the University of Victoria. His short fiction has been published online at Metamorphose Lit. He currently awaits the discovery of the fossils which prove Godzilla was a real dinosaur. Follow him on Instagram at hoobajuke or on Twitter at @KieranMcKiel.
Background image by ESO/IDA/Danish 1.5 m/R.Gendler, J-E. Ovaldsen, C. Thöne, and C. Feron.
http://www.eso.org/public/images/etamosaicnm2/, CC BY 4.0, Link