When the kraken attacked Seatorn, Tinder had been sleeping off the effects of a two-day drinking session on the floor under the main table of the Square Rigger Pub. She couldn’t remember what had precipitated this particular bender. A sailor with pocket full of coins to spend? The picking of an especially full purse? It didn’t matter. The only thing that counted was the warm oblivion of the wine, the fleeting camaraderie it brought, and the temporary extinction of all pain. She should have climbed the stairs to her room to sleep, it’s true, but that bare space was hardly more comfortable than the floor. It’s only virtue was that it was free. Tinder had long ago traded away the share of the tavern that she had inherited from her mother for a free room in the building. The only money she needed was for food and drink, and the former could be forgotten if the latter was flowing.
But the mornings could be rough.
The tavern was empty. The bartender and owner were away. It was only her, lying in the rushes on the filthy floor, trying to calm the pounding in her head.
Eventually she made it to feet, leaning heavily on the table. When she felt she could let go of that support, she gingerly straightened up and brushed the worst of the dirt from her last good dress. Her head pounding, she went behind the bar and looked for water. Finding a jug, she drank a tall glass.
Now something to settle her stomach. A piece of ginger was always good. Perhaps she had enough coins to buy a piece at the vegetable stand down the street. She found her purse behind the bar and checked inside. A few pennies were left. She hobbled to the front door.
Taking a deep breath, she opened the tavern door.
The bright light almost blinded her. It was a brilliant, cloudless day. The sun was warm but the air crisp with the salt breezes that blew across the harbor. The sunlight sparkled on the light chop of the ocean, sending blasts of pain into Tinder’s bloodshot eyes.
Why can’t it be cloudy, she asked herself. Why does it have to be so bright when my head hurts so much?
Staggered by the light, she closed the tavern door and carefully walked next door to the vegetable stand. The old woman who ran it gave her a dirty look before she even got close. That old biddy thought she was better than everyone else. She sneered at the people who entered the tavern and had been known to spit at the drunks who fell asleep on the street. She held a special scorn for Tinder, perhaps because she was a woman, perhaps because she herself seemed to have no life except selling her vegetables.
Tinder straightened her back and walked up to the stand. It didn’t matter if the old biddy looked down on her. She was a paying customer with pennies in her purse. She came up to the stand, made a show of looking at the vegetables, and asked if there was any ginger. The old biddy looked up at her with scorn in her eyes and opened her mouth to speak.
Except she didn’t speak. She screamed and stepped back in horror.
Tinder’s first thought was that she must look especially bad this morning, but the old biddy’s reaction seemed a bit strong. Then it struck her that the biddy was looking at something behind her. She turned around and scanned the street. Nothing unusual.
Then she looked up.
The tentacle towered above the shops on the street, impossibly high, until it came down with incredible speed and crushed the building across the street from Tinder.
Frozen in fear, not able to believe she was actually awake, Tinder watched the tentacles crash through the building to the ground. The great tip of the thing hit the cobblestones not five feet from where she stood. Then it dragged itself back in the water, pulling most of the crushed building into the sea.
Tinder became aware of the sounds. There were screams, bells, alarm horns. There was the sound of water, the sound of wood splintering, the sound of stones tumbling on each other. Someone was crying; someone was praying; Seaguards were shouting ineffectual orders.
Still Tinder did not move. She watched as the tentacle rose and fell again. It was joined by others, smashing into the structures of the harbor, crushing the ships that she could now see on the water since the building in front of her that had blocked her view had been taken down to the ground.
Then there were smells. The smell of plaster dust and broken wood. The smell of blood and smoke. The smell of the sea and of ships: tar and rope and sailcloth. And there was another smell, something alien, something of the sea but so overpowering it almost made her gag.
Still she did not move. She stood, frozen, consumed by a single thought.
It had been the night of his father’s execution. Tinder had not gone, but she had heard afterwards of the horror of the event. She knew that Edwin was behind it. So that night, when her mother was off with some customer, she had snuck out of the tavern and run through the dark streets of the city to Edwin’s house.
No candles had been burning in the windows of that house, all of which had been stripped of their drapes. Tinder pounded on the door but no answer came, just the echo of a house empty of furniture. The door was locked and marked with a seal of the City Council. Tinder called out Edwin’s name several times but there was no answer. She scanned the streets. No one was about. No one wanted to be near the house of an executed criminal. She used the privacy to summon her magic. She focused energy on the bolt of the door. It glowed and finally shattered. She stepped into the darkened house and shut the door behind her.
The front room was empty save for some bits of paper. The kitchen was similarly stripped bare, so she made her way to the second floor, to the study where she, Edwin, and the other magic children had gathered so many times. She pushed open the familiar door to be confronted with smashed bookshelves, torn scraps of books, a broken abacus, and other detritus that the bailiffs had thought insufficiently valuable to cart off. The room had no exterior windows so when she stepped into it she summoned a small globe of light to illuminate her way. When the globe reached full power she surveyed the room.
There was someone there, huddled in the corner. She jumped back in fright, but the figure did not move.
“Edwin?” she asked.
Still the figure did not move. Tinder crossed to it and reached forward to touch its shoulder, but before she could it said quietly, “Get out.”
It was Edwin’s voice.
“Edwin,” she said. “What are you doing? Can I help?”
For a moment there was no answer, then Edwin lifted his face. Tinder stepped back with a gasp. Edwin’s hair had gone completely white.
“Leave,” he said. “Leave me. Leave Seatorn. Leave the Finger.”
“Because I’m going to destroy it,” Edwin said quietly.
Tinder raised her hand to her mouth. “You can’t mean that,” she said. “Edwin, you can’t . . .”
Instantly Edwin was standing, holding her hand tightly in his and staring into her eyes. “Edwin is dead. Do you understand? Dead. I’m something new. Something that doesn’t even have a name yet, just a purpose.”
He dropped her hand. “When I was Edwin I liked you,” he said sadly. “Maybe I even loved you. But Edwin is dead. Everything that Edwin felt is dead, except hate. Because I used to care for you I give you this warning. Leave. I will destroy this city. Not today, not for many years, but I will destroy Seatorn.”
She opened her mouth to protest but Edwin did something. He invaded her mind. She reeled back under the force of the psionic assault. She felt Edwin’s hated, the narrowing of his being to a single point of revenge. But she also felt his intelligence and patience. Then she felt herself losing consciousness.
She remembered was waking up on the floor of the library. It was morning. Edwin was gone. As far as she could tell, he had taken nothing with him except the clothes on his back.
But now, standing amidst the kraken’s attack, it made sense. She had been hearing from patrons of the tavern that there had been strange things happening on the roads out of the Finger, especially in the mountain towns. Someone had said it was almost as though Seatorn was being purposely isolated, cut off from the rest of the world.
She had to find someone, to tell her story.
She ran. Through the collapsing buildings, past the fires and panicked Seaguards, down the streets clogged with hysterical people. She ran until she was out of the kraken’s reach. Where now?
The Seaguard post was on the harbor. It was certainly destroyed. That left the city hall, built into the west wall of the city. She ran there only to be turned away from the main doors by an ashen-faced guard.
“But I have news,” she had cried. “I know who’s doing this.”
“Walk away, you tart,” the guard shouted. “There’s no time for your drunken ramblings now.” He pushed her to the ground then turned his attention to other citizens who were crowding the doorway demanding protection.
She pulled herself to her feet and surveyed the scene. Increasing numbers of people were crushing up against the door, trying to get past the guard and into the city hall. Some were seeking the safety of the massive stone walls, others were demanding to see the members of the Council, some were simply mad with fright.
She spent the entire morning watching the crowd, watching the guard repel their advances, watched him let in a few prosperous looking citizens who surreptitiously pressed coins into his hand. Finally, late in the afternoon, she began to walk away. She walked along the Wall, having no place in mind to go, when she passed a door set in the Wall that she had never noticed before. Where did that go? Into some room in the city hall. Maybe she could get in there.
She tried the door. It was unlocked. She stepped into a small hallway that led to a heavy door with a sign on it that said “Records.” Tinder opened the door and stepped in. It was huge chamber full of shelves of books. She was about to call out when she heard someone coming towards the door. She ducked behind a bookshelf and crouched down. She heard the door open and heard several people enter. They called out, but she did not answer them, afraid they were guards. Immediately after someone else entered and Tinder overheard their conversation about Tzanasport. They were looking for someone named Baltrog.
Maybe she was wrong. Maybe the attack by the monster was a random occurrence. Maybe she had so muddled her thoughts with drink over the years that she could no longer tell reality from fantasy.
Deeply ashamed, Tinder stood up and silently made her way to the door. She would sneak out while those three people were speaking to the Recorder.
She opened the door when she heard the gruffest of the voices say, “I would give my beard to have his white-haired head under my axe right now.”
Shocked, she let go of the door. It slammed shut, and almost immediately a little gnome was looking at her through thick, round glasses.
Tinder told her story to the human, dwarf, and half-elf in a small room off the main chamber of the Record hall. The gnome hovered in the open door way until she heard Tinder describe the execution of Edwin’s father. She scurried off and returned several minutes later with a pile of documents tied in a bundle with red string.
“The report on the execution of Searoar Hawkright and the subsequent riot,” she said, dropping the dusty bundle on the table that the group was huddled around.
Kerimos untied the bundle and began to sift through the papers as Tinder finished her story.
“I never saw him again, nor heard of what happened to him,” she said haltingly. Telling her story to these strangers made her nervous. She wished she had a drink. “But when the attack came I put it together with the news of the roads being closed. I remembered what Edwin said the last time I saw him. So I came here and heard you mention his white hair.”
“In all these years since he left, what have you been doing?” asked Yolanthe.
Tinder looked down at her hands. They were trembling. “After he left, I didn’t do anything. No magic. No school. I live in the tavern my mother owned.” She felt herself about to cry. “I drink. I sleep on the floor. One day becomes another. I don’t know. I don’t care.”
She covered her eyes.
A hand rested on her shoulder. “There now,” said the gruff voice of the dwarf. “I’ve woken up on a few tavern floors myself. It’s what a broken heart will do to you.”
Tinder looked up into the face of the dwarf. Buried beneath the beard and bristling eyebrows were sad, wise eyes.
“Perhaps we can form a club,” Voltag said.
She smiled at that, and wiped away the tears that were forming in her eyes.
“The broken-heart drinkers,” the dwarf continued. “Got a nice ring to it.”
He smiled. She laughed.
“By the ghosts of my ancestors,” said Kerimos. “It’s all here.”
He was reading a yellowing scroll of parchment. “Searoar Hawkright was the waters-master of the city. He ran the waterworks of Seatorn. He was the engineer of the great culverts and cisterns under the city and regulated the water flow. But he came into debt. Gambling. And he began to extort money for water, which has always been free to the citizens of the city. When people did not pay, he poisoned their water supplies. Citizens thought it was an outbreak of the plague, but Hawkright was carefully running diseased water to the buildings of those that didn’t pay. He killed 100 children at an orphanage, 20 nuns at a temple. All told he may have killed 300 people. The poisons were all found on his person. There was no question of his guilt.
“But when he was executed, terrible things happened. Bizarre magic things that caused a riot. The dead man’s son disappeared right after.” He looked up from his reading. “Baltrog is Edwin Hawkright.”
“When did this happen?” asked Yolanthe.
“I’m not sure,” said Kerimos.
“Seatorn’s calender is calculated by the beginning of the election of the last member of the Council of Twelve every time a full new slate of council members is elected,” said the Recorder.
“What does that mean?” asked Voltag.
“It means,” said Kerimos, “that Seatorn’s system of dating is needlessly complicated.”
“Not if you have a handbook of chronology,” said the gnome. “Which I do right here.”
She reached into her jerkin and pulled out an octavo volume on a chain that she wore around her neck. She opened it, flipped through a dozen pages, and checked several charts. Finally she looked up and smiled.
“Ten years ago,” she said triumphantly. “Today.”
Voltag tarried with Tinder while the others walked off.
“What will you do now?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” she said. “Go back and see if the tavern is still standing.”
“Hmm,” Voltag grunted. “If it isn’t, come find us.” The dwarf hesitated. “I ain’t one to talk, but lay off the drink. Maybe practice the magic. Give you something to do. That’s my advice.” He reached under his chainmail and pulled out something that he pressed into her hand. “You’ll be needing a new dress.” He squeezed her closed hand, then turned and stomped off after his friends.
Tinder watched him go. It had been so long since someone had looked at her kindly that his departure felt like a new wound. Only when the dwarf was out of sight did she open her hand.It contained a gold coin that would buy a hundred of the best dresses in the city