It was falling. 

Werrin’s eyes widened in horror. The pod was deathly silent as they watched the pale quartzite foundations of the island crumble away. The shards picked up speed before vanishing below the pastel cloud sea. 

Another home lost. The islands are…dying.

Werrin’s throat burned, his salvia barely quenching his sudden thirst. Tears drew all the water in his being to his eyes as the sight was etched in his memory. A haunted nightmare to repeat in his head.

The whales moaned as the crack in the island finally split it apart. Werrin could see the roots of the weather-aged trees, the minerals rich in the soil; he watched its life drain away as it surrendered to gravity’s pull. How many more would be lost?

Girqo wailed, a ripple flowing over his body that forced Werrin to adjust his grip on the reins as he knelt down. He placed his hand on the calf’s smooth, slightly hardened skin to remind Girqo of his rider. His deep reddish beryl eyes were still transfixed on the descending land. The soft, curving edges of white and pastel down were swallowing up the exposed underside and seeping into the forested upper side. It was becoming difficult to see, be it tears or the cloud cover, Werrin did not know. 

Let the sea take the dead until the day is no more. The elder’s voice sang through the pond, rippling and echoing over the still air. As the last treetop vanished and the last sliver of mountaintop was consumed by white fire, the pod began to sing as they turned away. A mournful hum rose to a wailing lament. Werrin could not sing along with them; his throat was burning with grief, and his heart, was a lead weight on his chest.

It was truly gone. Lost to whatever lay below the deeper levels of the Deep Cloud Sea. Something not even he had dived under before. He exhaled, the air coming back into him anew, though he felt no refreshment. Werrin realized then that his stead had not moved. His friend was still floating there, barely humming the notes of his pod’s lament. 

Reaching out, he stroked Girqo’s curved head. “Friend,” he rasped. “Let us return.” No more words could be forced out of him. Girqo made no sound to him but slowly turned away. His tail sent swirls through the clouds as they left the empty space. 

How can the world seem so peaceful now? Here? Detached, he felt. Detached from the singing sunlight that danced around them, detached from the warmth it gave to his tanned skin, detached from the azure-blush sky kissed by the cool lilac-white puffs, and detached from the rare bird or flying creatures that were dancing in the glorious day. All passed his sight, beryl orbs looking ahead and beyond. Werrin’s hands, once before tight on the reins as the whales had raced to witness the catastrophe, were limp. The leather straps were falling from his fingers and wrists as Werrin stood, halcyon to others who would see him. 

Werrin, Girqo’s quiet, barely squeaking voice drifted to Werrin’s mind. The young man’s eyes snapped down to the head of his steed. Fingers grasping the reins again and grazing over his gear to keep his mind about him. “Speak, Girqo. I am still on your back, after all. No falling off you when you moving so steadily and slow,” he rushed out, ignoring the tremor running over him. 

Werrin, do you feel the same emptiness in the air I do? The calf’s head tilted slightly, turning and dropping through some clouds as they rode the edge of the pod’s trail home. Werrin could not see Girqo’s black eyes unless he dropped himself by one of them, but he did not need to. The tone was enough to know his friend’s expression. “I-I’m not sure, Girqo. I’d have to….” His belt felt too tight around his waist. Werrin tied his reins on his right wrist while he tried to fiddle with the belt. “I think I’d have to really focus on my surroundings to feel it as strongly as you do,” Werrin sighed. 

You can feel it now, can’t you? Feel the air we swim through, Girqo quipped. Werrin closed his eyes, fingers gripping the reins and clasp of his belt as he gave it a loosening tug. I knew you would say that, but I fear what I’ll notice. What if I do feel the absence of balanced mæna? What do I do? 

Some of the pod say it’s just the islands’ time to fall back below the cloudsea, but I think some want to tell the truth. Indeed, they might say something to you. 

“Why? Because I can ride the whales? Or because I can communicate and hear all creatures? Your kind are among the few species that know how to harness and manage mæna of this world. Me…,” Werrin looked down at his body, lithe in most places with the slight bulk of muscle from his arms and legs. Unlike the whales decorated with beautiful and swirling marks of mæna in and around them, he was unpainted. “I’m still learning how to wield it as you.”

But still! I know you’re the only human that can do it! 

“I’m also the only human being you know in general.”

True… Girqo trailed off. A low hum wafted through the air, sending a gentle tingle up Werrin through his feet. Girqo was quiet as Werrin felt a small smile pull at his lips. The mæna around his friend pulled in, the marks starting to pulse and beat in a blinding gold against the deep blue of Girqo’s skin. The power, or magik, of thought. Looking up, Werrin watched as the clouds parted.

The hidden cove where the whales resided. A giant chain of islands, draped by the falling waters and hanging roots as the crystals and minerals twinkled beneath and behind the curtains. The elders said it had no name to them, so Werrin had given it one from a young age. “Lonebane Cove, we are home again,” Werrin whispered, gathering a little mæna to send his message to the air. 

The other whales were spitting off to their own business. Having confirmed the trouble and dip in mæna that had caused the rushed leave, they returned to what they had been doing but with a darker aura surrounding them each. 

Werrin gave a firm tug on the reins, moving them both to a smaller, bare section of land just to the right of the main island. He opened a pouch on his left hip and dropped the reins as they came close. Werrin detached himself from the belt and straps of his riding gear. Girqo stopped a few feet from the edge, perhaps knowing what his rider was about to do as time had proven. With a leap, Werrin soared into the air all alone. Not tied down by leather nor riding a creature fit for flight. Just himself against the sky. 

But gravity was an old enemy of his, and thus Werrin watched the ground meet his feet. Letting all settle inside his flesh, Werrin turned back to Girqo with a grin. “Qi-ko,” he declared with a twirl of his fingers. The saddle, straps, and reins gleamed on the whale’s back. They ascended in the light, immaterial and malleable, before collapsing into a disk in Werrin’s hand. 

Seriously, so easy. Werrin tossed the metal disk in the air, admiring the centerpiece (a chunk of transparent mineral he had mined). A mæna spell he thought to be the only one he was good at. He caught it again before placing it in his pouch. 

“I’ll see you later this evening, Girqo. I’m going to the forest to…mediate, I suppose.” Werrin shrugged. “Not much else I believe I feel up to doing.” Ok, take care of yourselves, Rider. I hope we can figure all this out.  Girqo swam away from the cropping as melancholy wisps of mæna trailed after him, ghosts of something lost. 

Werrin’s eyes followed his friend’s small, nearly bony tail before directing his eyes elsewhere. Shivers were running rampant in him, and he clutched his pouch as if it was a handle for a kind of release. 

“I seriously need to calm down,” he muttered to himself as he walked toward the bridge. It connected what he considered his landing to a more significant portion of the cove. He felt the tingle of pure mæna through his boots from the plates of mixed metal and crystals. His hands ran mindlessly over the enforced rope guardrails, infused with runes inside to create a wall of hardened air that caused old bruises to almost sing. 

His long stride allowed him to cross over quickly, and then he ran. He wasn’t sure why, but he felt the urge, the burn to run. Maybe the feel of the air against his face was the only way to prevent more tears, a way to stall his mind from figuring out why.

Through the prickly fruit bushes, past the towering elmgar trees, and jumping over the small streams that led to waterfalls, Werrin was searching for an escape. So much had occurred, and the islands falling was causing him to reach a breaking point. He just wanted a place to himself where no one would come to interrupt him. 

Werrin passed through the denser part of the forest into an open valley with a small brook flowing out into an open pond. He knew it led to a larger pool of water graced with a more enormous waterfall; he and some other forest friends enjoyed playing there in years past. However, they had not had the time or mindset to do such frivolous activities. I should still be playing with the kitsunes, the birds, the rabbit-sheep, everyone. Maybe not as often since I am not a child, but surely I could be more relaxed than I am. 

Werrin couldn’t answer himself to his frustration. He threw his belongings down and sat beside them with such harsh force that he felt the ground sting his backside up to his neck. The pain just served to well up more tears to blur his vision. His lips pressed together, and he threw his head back to prevent the water from streaming down his face again. Fingers gripped the grass as his mind projected the glistering crystals as they fell before him in the sky he dimly saw. 

“No! I’m not thinking about it now. I don’t want to!” His screaming echoed, ripping around the valley before tapering over the trees. Werrin beat his fists on the ground, focusing on the mild, dull pain gathering on his hands as he projected his anger onto the ground. His eyes could see his skin slowly turning a faint red from the pounding, and he increased his speed. The pain, physical pain in myself. I need to disperse my energy, just don’t think! 

One last time, he let out a heaving cry and folded the rest of his body forward. He felt lighter to a degree, his head throbbing from something he was unsure of for a moment, but the wetness of his face explained it immediately. Werrin felt stuck in a cycle of witnessing his world essentially dying, the creatures telling him to help in some way he didn’t even understand, and him stalling, running, and trying to process independently. How can I claim it’s a cycle? Oh, cause this is like the second time? Third? Definitely not fourth? I’m going off-track with myself here. Werrin ran his hands through mussed, golden hair as it clung to his moist cheeks. 

I need to calm down…meditate. Feel the mæna, maybe? Like that would help me, what if I… He paused. Girqo had mentioned it, but still, wisps of hesitation lingered in Werrin’s mind. What it could mean if he found something. Werrin fingered the straps of his bag as he wrestled with it until his eyes fell on a tiny charm on the clasp. A simple band of steel wrapping around a ‘heart’; a pulsing crystal with mæna inside it. The whales had fashioned it like this after he had found it as a child during his first expedition riding Girqo. Its gentle glow held a comforting warmth, but as Werrin stared, he imagined if it went out. Cool, no cold, devoid of that pastel green hue leaving a sickly dull grey behind. 

Blinking away his imagination, Werrin shivered as he took in the scenery before him. It would fall away too, deadened and bleak. A home and joy would be lost, and Werrin knew others lived on islands around them. Some of the whales even said some tribes and communities of humans resided on islands, but they could not draw near due to some past incident they spoke of (but Werrin knew he probably had been daydreaming during that part, curse him).

Looking back at the little ‘heart,’ Werrin felt the weight of Girqo’s prompting again. This time, he steeled himself. I need to; I don’t want to lose my home and…I don’t want to disappoint them. 

Werrin laid down, closing his eyes and inhaling deeply. Going into a trance wasn’t the most challenging part for him; it was clearly feeling and grasping the mæna streams around him. He would focus and hone his senses, but there was always some kind of block. He would try repeatedly, but the same wall would still stop him. Maybe this time, perhaps. 

So he cleared his mind and let the environment surround him; the scents, the sounds, the feel of the grass and dirt under him. As these three consumed him, his mind would be able to conjure the ‘sights’ around him and the ‘tastes’ in the environment. Mæna streams could be found in these once he was in a balanced state. Werrin always thought it was weird; he had to be focused but still aware. A thinking art form, as he said once. 

The whales said once it was mastered, the pathway and handling of mæna would be much easier. Now he just had to get to that point. Werrin breathed deeply, he could visualize the valley almost clearly now, and he heard some of the rabbit-sheep and Koko birds beginning to stir nearby


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