A Tale of Giants
Sit and listen, small giants,
for the endtimes have found us,
and I’ve one final story to tell.
“Legend tells of a fertile valley shaped like a crescent moon which lies between a tall snowcapped mountain and a long, curved range of its brothers. The valley’s southern end butts out to a raging waterfall which flows over a cliff; below the jagged crag stretches the Wanaque Reservoir, a vast patch of deep water and wildlands long tamed by the giants.
“We arrived here many cycles ago, more than the elders, even more than the dead would care to count. We came as refugees from deep in the Westlands – our carriage caravan was tragically consumed by fire and darkness when a rogue bolt of lightning struck a single bush growing on the peak of a low mountain and sparked a forest fire – and we found miles upon miles of lush green woodlands dotted with clearings of black, fertile soil, and beyond the treeline of this mighty forest? The Wanaque Reservoir, its waters murky and teeming with life. It was almost as if the Wanaque was made for us, as if we found ourselves in the good graces of Mesingwe and stumbled upon the very patch of Earth on which he hides his prime wild game, but I digress; we were nomads back then, we’d never had a place to stay before. Never had a proper way of life, either. The Wanaque changed that.
“We built the boats first. Before any firepits were dug out, before any lean-tos were raised, before our tools and supplies were repaired of the damage they sustained on the journey, we built the boats. We had seeds but no grown crops, and there weren’t many berry bushes where we decided to settle – yes, they do grow here now, because the settlers planted them. Hush up little one, please allow me to finish.
“Some scouts were sent out to search for food, and the first to return spoke of an island spotted in the middle of the lake which seemed to be teeming with untapped berry bushes. So, with broken tools and aching limbs, we built the boats first. It went quickly enough, as many hands make for shortest work; later that night, everyone ate supremely well.
“Before long we had built up huts and tilled out gardens, and before too much longer our little tribe of vagrants had established a proper village where all had a hut to sleep in and none spent a single night in their hut feeling hungry. But as you all must learn, nay, as you surely will learn soon, all good things must come to an end. I don’t need to remind you all of the drought – the gardens have not produced a stable harvest since before any of you were born, and the game seems to be withdrawing from the Res’ as the Earth drinks back her water. Our land has gone sterile, small giants, and so it’s time to move on.”
“But where will we go?!” shouts a small giant, risen up on his knees.
“Hush now, small giant! The drought may have postponed the naming ceremony, but I know your face well enough. Why is it always you who causes the disruptions in our huddles?”
The small giant says nothing and settles back with his peers. The wrangler smirks petty victory and continues her lesson. Had the drought not struck with such ferocity this cycle, she’d have been teaching the young ones how to descale and prepare a trout for cooking today; what a world.
“We’ve been sending our scouts out since the last moon’s renewal in search of new ground to settle, and only one team has come back with hope – that team told the elders of the crescent moon valley, and to the crescent moon valley we shall go.”
The mob of small giants stay sitting, feet crossed beneath them and cozy in their deerhide garb. A few share looks, and one whispers something into the ear of the interrupter, but it doesn’t draw a giggle. They may be small giants with only five cycles under their hides, but they catch onto a vibe quickly enough.
“It’s not a far journey, as I’m sure your parents all told you, and you’ll all be expected to carry your own weight on your own two feet.”
A groan erupts from the huddled small giants like enraged hornets out of a mudhive with a rock lodged in the side. The wrangler stifles it, hands on her hips.
“Would you rather leave our supplies behind so you may take their place in the carriages? You’re all very warm and cozy in your deerhide garb, I see, but you’ll surely outgrow what you now wear before the autumn of the next cycle; wouldn’t you like for the leatherworkers to be able to make you new ones?”
Silence wafts from the huddle, a positive silence. The wrangler takes it as a yes, then says, “Well that’s exactly what I thought. Now none of you forget our tribe’s story, small giants, for it will do you well to remember where we came from. One day there won’t be anybody left to remind you, and then you’ll have to pass the story on for yourselves. But that’s a far way off yet; we’ve now a new village to build. Up small giants, up on your feet! Time to join the caravan! The wagons are loaded and ready, the valley awaits!”
The small giants follow their wrangler to the caravan like goslings behind a mother goose. The schoolhouse sways and creaks as they leave, as if the structure knows they’ll not be returning, and the last one out (our interrupter, shockingly enough) doesn’t bother to close the door behind him. The schoolhouse is the last building still standing down here; all the rest were torn down and turned into the second wagon earlier in the day, and whatever wood wasn’t wagonized was loaded into the wagons to be chopped into firewood once the tribe has resettled. The same fate will meet the schoolhouse in due time, but not quite yet. For now, the tribe of giants has a journey to make.
Arduous doesn’t quite describe their voyage. The stronger of the giants have to push the wagons along the beaches of the Wanaque because the forest is too healthy to accommodate their wide loads, which isn’t half as bad as it sounds. Strenuous, yes – one of the pushers compares the task to rolling a slain whitetail with a belly full of their fresh crops to the butcher’s hut, which raises a hearty laugh from the rest – but free of the mosquitoes and other buzzing nuisances all too prevalent hardly fifteen feet over from them on the other side of the wall of trees. The Universe finds balance though, as it does in all things; the walkers in the forest can simply step over the numerous rocks which poke out of the Earth in their path, while the wagoneers have to hump their hauls over each and every chock to insert itself under the wooden wheels of the wagons. Thankfully no wheels break, though splinters pierce many palms.
Sweat stains the trail of footprints left in the sand behind the wagoneers. They join the rest of their tribe at the foot of the waterfall by shineset and are met by the delightful squeals of the small giants frolicking in the splash pool, rejoicing in the refreshing spray of cold mist after a long, hard day’s walk. A moment is spared to admire the giggling faces of the children at play as the great shine throws its last rays of molten scarlet to dance across the surface of the busy lagoon. Then, half of the tribe gets bored of the waterworks and starts working on building up a fire.
The tribe sleeps soundly under the starpool and goes blissfully undisturbed by the denizens lurking in the shadows of their camp, though lurk there they do, with snooping noses and starving eyes that glow an eerie yellow green in the moonlight. One such pair holds the gaze of the interrupter through the night, for he rarely slept even when he had a hut to sleep in, and it only blinks away when the great shine peeks over the horizon early in the dawn. The small giant brings the eyes up to the wrangler, but she tells him not to worry. “‘Twas just a curious whitetail.”
They’re ambushed by the cougar halfway up the mountain. No giants are claimed and they chase the beast off easily, but one of the wagoneer teams lost hold on their load and it rolled down to where the tribe camped out the previous night. A small squad of scouts stayed back to make up for lost time; with the help, the exhausted wagoneers crest the hill by high noon. Beyond them sprawls the crescent moon valley.
In truth, legends never told us the tale of the crescent moon valley; it’s just as well, as legends often lie to make the story they hold more interesting so it can be remembered. The truth of the matter is that the valley stood between the snowcapped mountain and the range of its brothers for just as long as the river flowing through it fell into the Wanaque Reservoir below, longer perhaps – a bit of turkey or the egg, sure, but a river must flow over land for it to drop and become a waterfall, so perhaps the valley was there first, after all.
All the giants in the tribe, from the gray-headed elders to the batch of small giants who had claimed their fifth cycle and still went on nameless, everybody knew something was at the top of that waterfall, something must provide the Wanaque with its water. No scouts were ever sent to explore as the climb was treacherous, so decreed the elders, and it shan’t have been made until such was necessary, but still they all knew something must be there. The world cannot end with a wall of quartz and granite, it simply cannot. Besides, even with the drought there was still some water, the lakebed was never fully reduced to desert. If not a river flowed atop that craggy monolith then surely a lake of some sort sat, else their wagon would have crossed over the Wanaque Desert rather than settling on the shores of the Res’.
Yes, all the tribesfolk knew there was something up there where the water sat before it fell, and the sight of the river from the foothill (aptly named the Wanaque River before the bonfire pit was even dug) surprised none, not even the mighty wagoneers who had to make that treacherous climb twice. What did surprise the giants, not just the exhausted wagoneers with palms a’leak with wineberry juice but the entire tribe, was the pair of foreign giants waiting for them in the middle of the valley where a split river rejoins and becomes one.
The Foreign Giants
The small giants watch from the top of the foothill as their wrangler and two of the five elders descend into the valley. Wisps of dust skit behind their footsteps on the downslope – the floor of the valley, however, is blanketed in supple green grass, with the occasional purple or pink stone jutting out of the meadow like gemstones encased in boulders. It’s as if the world’s biggest whitetail was slain and its fur dyed greener than the springtime, then laid across the entire valley like a rug in the old huts the giants once slept in. One small giant, one known for interrupting a good flow, can’t help but lose himself in thoughts of how large the antlers would be if such a beast existed; the eyes of the cougar appear to him from the darkness of his mind and he’s startled back to the outside world.
The pair of foreign giants waiting between the rivers look like little black blobs from where the small giants stand, like a pair of ants who fiddled about and learned how to stand up on two legs… or like a pair of black bears who have eaten so little that they began to float towards the starpool, only held down by the weight of their heavy black claws. Their wrangler and the shamans she walks with aren’t that small yet – in fact, they look more like a large spider the way they walk in a group through the valley below – but they’ll get there. Well, hopefully; if the ambassadors come upon the pair of foreign giants only to be dwarfed in size and hoarfed over sharp teeth, not much could stop the ensuing stampede of small giants back down the treacherous climb behind them. Fear spreads faster than loose silt in water, and though perhaps one of the small giants wouldn’t flee, the rest surely would. Then nothing would stop the interrupting one from marching down the dusty hill and dealing with the foreign giants himself.
But the foreign giants are indeed giants and not despicably intelligent black bears, and they hold a short palaver with the tribe’s ambassadors before turning around and trekking deeper into the valley. The ambassadors return with wood masks of disbelief strapped to their faces, but they relay the good word regardless: the valley is the tribe’s to settle, as it had been for five cycles now. It would have been six if they dared another full autumn in the wildlands, but they hadn’t, and so, here they are.
A certain small giant asks his wrangler about the foreign giants as the tribe prepares to descend the dusty hill into their promised land. The wrangler says they were draped in black garments with hoods that shrouded their faces, that they called themselves monks and that they had watched over the valley since the first star shone its light through the veil of the starpool. She tells the small giants – and the rest of the tribe, as their curiosities had been piqued – that the rest of the monks had moved on long ago, and that only those two stayed to wait for the giants, and now the tribesfolk are the new stewards of the valley.
“But where did they go?” the small giant asks and then pleads when his question doesn’t immediately go answered.
“They would not say, young one, only that it’s now time for them to move on. Now hush up and follow their example! The great shine will soon set, and we’d do well to have birthed a fire before then.”
Inferno is the best way to describe the fiery thing that rose from the pit that night. No homes were built, no tools mended or repaired, no boats were freed from the fallen logs that so trap them; on that first night, the tribe of giants – the Monks Tribe, named for those mysterious hooded travelers – danced, sang songs, and celebrated their new homestead. The bonfire pit was dug on the land the foreign giants waited upon, and the stones chose to line it were of purple and pink hue. By the time the embers gave in to the cold of the night, the tribe was stuffed and slept, and the small giants with five cycles of life lived were all granted their names in proper ceremonial fashion, as was the greater crescent moon valley: this land is known as Monksville, carrier of the Wanaque River, homeland of the Monks Tribe.
By the end of that cycle’s autumn, every giant had a hut to sleep in. Vast gardens were tilled along the banks of the river, the hunters had the movements of the local whitetail herds down to a science, and the leatherworkers were more than busy preparing the winter garments for the tribesfolk. This is fortunate, as that first winter hit Monksville harder than any winter before it, and harder than any winter ever will hit the valley; any except one, that is, but that one is still far off in the future, nothing more than a passing thought in the wandering mind of a certain small giant, a thought watched keenly by the eyes of the puma, never blinking, always shining their leafbud glow through the darkness of subconscious thought.
The spring of the new cycle brought splendor to the Monks Tribe in far more ways than one. With the surplus of food, more teams of scouts were able to be sent off without crippling the flow of deermeat. One team followed the Wanaque River north and was pleased to report not only that the branching flows rejoined each other again, but that the river flowed far beyond the bend of the trees, all the way into the forest at the northern end of the valley. Another team went south along the path they followed to the valley and happily reported that the Wanaque Reservoir was full again, the drought seems to have ended with the Monks Tribe’s moving on.
Another such team headed north of the village and made to climb the snowcapped mountain – they returned with the most promising news of all: though the journey is perilous, a certain kind of magic lies in the mountain, a magic heretofore unheard of: shiny rocks, not unlike the quartz crystals favored by the tribe’s shamans, but not quite like them either. The leader of that scout team, a giant by the name of Hill Climber (never slow to volunteer for scouting work, that Hill Climber), confessed to a bit of intuition he felt about those shiny rocks: were they heated to high temperatures, they may be melded and crafted into tools, tools much stronger than the mere stoneheaded things the tribe’s been using up until now. From this intuition came a new profession to the Monks Tribe: metalworking.
Though the tribe rejoiced around the bonfire that night, they all had a queer kind of feeling about them, as though they heard the echoes of a sinister cackle erupting from the starpool, or mayhap even from beyond it. Like the waterfall’s pool at the head of the Wanaque Reservoir, the nighttime sky must be fed by something, perhaps by an ethereal river which flows infinitely above the starpool, a torrent of souls both lost and found looking for restful residence amongst the heavens. Surely the spirits of old see the giants’ progress, surely their laughter is that of glee.
With metalworking came a second new profession to the humble Monks Tribe, though it is less a simple profession and more of a practiced art: fishcatching. That’s not to say the giants never brought forth a fish from the waters of the Wanaque – on the day they moved, the wrangler was meant to teach the children how to descale a fish and prepare it for cooking, after all – but it had always been little more than a hobby. Fish are tasty enough when they’re seasoned with the right herbs, but they’re small, nimble, hard to catch; they’re not a proper food source. The real sustenance came from the work of the huntsmen and the keepers of the gardens; oh, what was that? Littlefoot brought back a smallmouth he speared all by himself? Well that’s great, more real food for the rest of us tonight.
No, fishcatching was never held as a respectable occupation for the giants of the Monks Tribe, even before it was granted its proper namesake, but that all changed with the metalworking. Now, rather than taking crap shots at surfaceswimmers with weapons meant for big game, the giants had lures they could tie to the end of a sinew string to be flung as far as the flinger could fling them. Before too long, the folk figured out how to fasten their strings to poles and the lures were flung even farther, and suddenly the giants’ food pyramid gained a whole new level.
As time went on, a certain kind of daily routine began to solidify. At the crack of dawn, the giants would all wake and drink their morning tea in their huts, all aside from the shamans who would gather early ‘round the fire pit and smoke their kinnikinnik. Then breakfast, and when their tummies were full, all the tribesfolk would join the shamans ‘round the bonfire pit and partake in the morning powwow. Then, the small giants scrambled to the schoolhouse and the large giants went to work. The gamehunters took to the forests, the rockminers to the Minelands, the cropgrowers to their gardens and the fishcatchers to the Res’. The leather- and woodworkers would stay back in the village, as that’s where their craft was performed, and those without a job to do spent their days trying to find a task which engaged them.
They lived out of huts and cabins built around a river. They wore deerskin garments. They were the Monks Tribe, stewards of the Monksville valley. They lived off the river and worshipped it as a benevolent deity. For many cycles, life was good.
Then, the river began to dry up.
Then, the river did dry up.
By this time, the small giants who climbed up the treacherous hill by the waterfall had small giants of their own, nameless small giants on their third cycle of seasons, growing small giants who needed to eat food constantly. So, the large giants did the only thing they knew: they went to the shamanfolk.
The shamanfolk, in turn, did the only thing they knew: smoked heavily on their concoction of herbs and ordered a rain dance.
That very night, rather than enjoying a peaceful evening powwow, the Monks Tribe gathered on the large island between the split flows of the Wanaque River. They all wore special ceremonial garb – bird feathers, bearskins, and the head shaman wore the pelt of a puma. With their hands joined, they began to dance. Massive clouds of dust exploded as their feet beat the dry floor of the valley, the wind whipped and howled, glimmering stars blinked on and off in the starpool. Denizens of all shapes and sizes heard the giants doing their dance that night; many fled, but more were drawn to the wild dubious rhythm of the giant tribes’ stomping footpace. They danced and danced and danced and the moon rose and rose and rose, then it began to sink and sink and sink and the great shine began to rise and rise and rise, but the giants did not stop dancing and dancing and dancing. For many days they kept up the routine, even when the small giants began to faint from exhaustion, even when the large giants felt the bones in their feet shattering, even when the shamans became delirious and saw the spirits of their ancestors flying around the tribe in a ghastly yellow-green cyclone churning up into infinity, the Monks Tribe did not cease their rain dance.
Then the last giant fell unconscious into the dirt. When they began to wake, the rain had begun to fall. At first they rejoiced and there was much celebration; the Monks Tribe was saved! The river would flow once more, their crops would resume growth, the fish and the wild game would come back! The giants of the Monksville valley did their dance for the Great Spirit and it saw, and it clapped its hands, and it delivered.
Shinecycles passed and the monsoon didn’t cease. More passed and the storm did not relent. The floods began and the gardens were ruined. The cabins and huts began to collapse. The rain fell upon the valley in troves, unceasingly and without mercy.
The giants convened and held a powwow. The village’s two top power players, Black Smith and The Giant, had very different ideas of how to deal with this mess. Black Smith suggested the tribe head to the higher grounds of the Minelands and settle there, and a good number of giants rejoiced at the idea. The Giant suggested they head south to the bottom of the waterfall and resettle on the shores of the Wanaque, and significantly less giants seemed on board. So, to remedy this dichotomy of thought and aspirations for the future of their kind, the tribe split in two: three quarters of the Monks Tribe went to the Minelands to settle and called themselves the Tribe of the Forge; the rest took to the south and settled along the long northern stretch of the Wanaque Reservoir, decidedly keeping their original namesake.
The rain fell for days after the split, then kept falling until it could fall no more, and the dark clouds finally left the sky.
The Giant was the first to inspect the aftermath, and he was duly amazed; atop the crag where the Wanaque River once flowed into the Reservoir there was a massive dam, likely built by beavers after the giants had taken cover. As the rest of the Monks Tribe emerged into the world, The Giant climbed the treacherous climb and nearly fell right back down when he saw what he saw: the valley was gone, filled with water past the brim of the dusty downslope.
A gentle breeze blew The Giant’s hair back as he stood atop that foothill, and he fell to his knees with tears in his eyes, tears of joy, of gratitude, tears any giant will cry when they finally stick that whitetail buck they’ve been chasing through the forests for shinecycles. Droughts have come and gone in the past, and no giant is a stranger to famine regardless of the grounds they settle on, but those days were now the past. The Monksville Reservoir was born.
Monksville’s coronation from valley to Reservoir took place early in the autumn; the rest of the season was spent taming the lands around her. The Monks Tribe built up a small fishing village; everyone lived in full cabins and the hunting of wild game was replaced with fishcatching as the main source of meaty foods. Because of the small number of giants living in these lowlands, a herd of whitetail deer would often be seen grazing the local pastures. Soon enough the giants who could not will fish into biting their hooks began to feed these deer, then tame them, then one day a whitetail found itself strapped into a harness and used to pull a wagon. Roads were beaten and carved into the ground (even one skating up that treacherous climb), roads which linked the two villages together and sprouted a very prosperous trade relationship between the once divided tribesfolk. In exchange for tamed whitetails, the Tribe of the Forge would give the Monks Tribe metal-headed tools, jewelry gemmed with crystals, and, perhaps most importantly of all, advanced fishing technology. Gone were the days of simple barbed hooks tied to the string end of a pole and arrived were the days of reels and lures which resembled the prey of the fish they’re meant to catch. Soon secrets of the art of fishcatching were shared between the villages, and in cycles to come, the tribes will both have reason to build their boats again.
This is more or less the end of the giants’ holding the focus of our tale – there is still much to tell, worry not even a little bit, for the giants are not the only denizens to make their homes in the greater keep of the Monksville Reservoir.
By the end of autumn, the land was colonized. The Monks tribe had built the first of many floodgates in the Wanaque, separating the greater Reservoir and the pocket of water from which the Fishing Village pulled their livelihood, and built a road over it. The Tribe of the Forge, after building roads everywhere (even overtop the great beavers’ dam!) discovered a brilliant new craft called sandbaking, and they used their skills to build tanks which could hold fish and a small body of water. The Monks tribe traded deer- and fishmeat for these tanks and a fish hatchery was soon established in the lowlands. The giants would travel far and wide in search for eggs or spawning pairs of desirable fish they wished to introduce into Monksville; one giant – The Giant – brought to the hatchery a prime species of lakebreather known only as the muskellunge, a mighty underwater hunter, an apex predator of the deep. There were two of these lakebreathers, a male and a female, and it is with this spawning pair that our tale truly begins.
The First Cycle
The first cycle began with a deep freeze the likes of which had never been forded by the giants. The Tribe of the Forge kept to their forges and the Monks Tribe kept to their hatchery, tending to their many fish and keeping a watchful eye over the male muskellunge, who had already begun to dwarf his tankmates. No giant cast a line into Monksville that entire cycle, nor did they float their boats. The Reservoir needed time to settle out, so decreed the shamans; it needed time to settle in peace.
Little did they know, the new lake settled over the winter and life was already thriving. No hierarchy of being was established among the lakebreathers, so they lived well and did as they pleased. The waters teemed with trout, pike, walleye, sunnies, bass both small- and largemouth, and provided enough baitfish to feed both lakebreathers small enough to need them and the crustaceans who dwell in the lake’s shallower waters, those crawdads who once made their burrows along the Wanaque River, the old guard. There were no territories, all swam where they pleased, and any who wished to swim into the Wanaque River or fling themselves through the spillover gap of the beavers’ dam? So be it, and more power to them.
The same carefree lifestyle was enjoyed by the landwalking denizens, although they all more or less recognized the giants as the apex species. Not many creatures colonized the valley before the flood, but those that did all fled deep into the surrounding forests. The brushdwellers kept themselves hidden, the few lakewalkers evolved and thrived, and the squirrels and ‘munkies found a home around the Wanaque River feeder point back behind The Basin. The larger mammals mainly kept to the mountains, the untamed herds of whitetails traveling between them sporadically and the few predators residing amongst the peaks. The bear is the only permanent predatory resident (the cougar often wanders and disappears for seasons on end) and so he is treated with a certain respect by mammals smaller than he, but he does not demand it. He is a gentle titan if not provoked, though the giants claim his coat is where the very starpool got its blackness, and his claws poked the holes through which the stars do shine.
The wingflappers, however, did have something of a power struggle – the Birds of Lake held roost over all the Southern Expanse, and the Birds of Prey held perch over the Northern Leg and The Basin, which included a hearty swampland known only as The Submerged Jungle. This was fine for the Birds of Lake (aside from a single goose flock which roosted in The Basin, they all steered clear), but for the Birds of Prey it was an issue. There was the osprey, the pair eagles, an owl, and a massive flock of vultures; the vultures more or less made the rules, as their flock was the largest by far, and their leader, The Vultress, had long established a religion of sorts based off their scavenging; there was also the gull flock, who had defected and sworn their allegiance to Prey and cast away their Lakehood. The gulls are the dayguard of The Submerged Jungle; the bats, under a similar yet less stringent arrangement because they are not birds, guard the night. That trespassing goose flock was chased from their nest in The Basin many times, likely just as often as the gulls (and the osprey, by occasion) were chased from The Southern Expanse. Tensions were thick amongst the wingflappers of Monksville, but no blood was ever shed; sometimes a feather or two were lost outside of molting season, but that is no grave injustice. All birds, both of Lake and of Prey, filled their bellies that cycle; something of a power struggle was surely aloft in the air, surely, but wings flapped through it regardless.
That first cycle after the filling of the Monksville Reservoir was undoubtedly the most prosperous cycle the denizens had ever lived through, but splendor is impermanence as all beings of Earth are sorely ‘ware, and with every dawn that follows the dark, an even colder night looms on the tailwinds of the day.
The Second Cycle
The second cycle began with a deep freeze just as the first one did, but none realized just how deep that freeze was until the spring came to thaw it out. The Submerged Jungle, once a dense sunken forest leafed indistinguishably from the trees sprouting from dry land, was now a petrified graveyard; from this cycle on it shall be called The Sticks, as such was decreed by The Vultress.
This springtime also saw the introduction of the muskellunge into the waters of Monksville, though it was not planned. The male muskellunge, a fearsome waterbeast known only as Anaxandridas, decided one early morning that life in the giants’ hatchery was no life for a muskellunge to live. The waters in the tank were found murkier than that of Monksville, but this was not a healthy murk, this water did not boast clouds of algae or sediment or whatever it is that floats up from the lakebed when air bubbles rise. The water was red, a sick crimson, and the room stank of cold copper. Anaxandridas had enacted a mad feeding frenzy; aside from his mate, no lakebreather survived the massacre. The Giant, the giant in charge of the hatchery, decided right then and there that a mere glass tank was not suitable for a lakebreather of the muskellunge’s magnitude, and suddenly the waters of Mother Monksville had a monarch. A few weeks later his royal family shared in his power, as every king needs his heir and mistress.
Unfortunately, this is not a tale of princesses and castles with towers but a tale of denizens and deep water, and by the time summer came to the crescent moon valley, only one of Anaxandridas’s musklings lived to feel its warmth. Some were consumed before they hatched, but most were consumed after. Many were taken by pike – the pike are now extinct in the waters of Monksville; many were taken by trout – the trout now keep to the Wanaque River; one muskling who fancied itself a surfaceswimmer was taken by a gull – the dipper ducks watched as their white-feathered friend was pulled beneath the surface, and a powerful lesson was learned that day; a few were even taken by the king’s own mate – he’ll not leave a widow when the long curtain is drawn.
By the time the grim infanticide finally subsided, Anaxandridas had gone properly and fully mad, and any swimmer who dared be foolish enough to tread water in Muskellunge Cove was as good as dead.
With the summer came a flock of red-tailed hawks to The Sticks. Their flock is an especially culty one and does not often commune with outsiders, and because of this, they arrived at Monksville a cycle too late. Even with the trespassing goose flock gone from The Basin, there was no room in The Sticks for them to roost, nor enough small game to fill their bellies, as hawks eat land rodents, not fish; their flock had no place in The Sticks, and the osprey tried to tell them nicely. In turn, the hawks tried to ask for mercy as they were chased off by that osprey, with a pair eagles on his tail and the mighty turkey vulture flock not far behind. For this show of bravery, the osprey was crowned Lord of The Sticks by The Vultress, and with the departure of all unwelcomed parties, the power struggle was over.
Or, at least, an armistice was reached.
Through this cycle the giants still did not pierce the waters of Monksville, as the shamans decided the lake needed more time to settle after the introduction of the pair muskellunge. However, this all changed in a single night when a burning flare was cast down from the starpool, birthing a massive hole in both the canopy of the forest sprouting from the mountain behind the two islands and in the mountain itself. This hole will be known forevermore as The Crater, and when the smoke cleared and the Earth no longer singed the paws of all denizens who trekked there, the squirrelhorde made its claim.
The birth of The Crater was interpreted by the shamans of both tribes as a sign from the Great Spirit that Monksville was properly settled, and that giants may now pull fish from her waters, and pull fish they did. This second cycle ended in much the same way as it started: with a thick sheet of ice capping the waters of Monksville.
The Third Cycle
The winter of the third cycle marked the discovery of ice fishing. The giants quickly realized their method of busting the ice open with a pickaxe and fishing the waters as if the ice wasn’t there at all, though better than sitting in a toasty cabin with a finger up one’s bum all day, didn’t provide the kind of results the giants wanted (or needed). So, The Giant and Black Smith convened and melded their minds to produce tools for the new trade: rather than casting far with longpoles, ice fishers would use jiggin’ rigs, fishing poles no more than two feet in length, and rather than patrolling the waters via boat, ice fishers would use tip-ups to mark their holes. And to make holes less than four feet in diameter? The auger: a spiral blade, a metal handle, a beechwood grip fastened to swivel by the twirl – only one such masterpiece was made, as a gift from Black Smith to The Giant.
“Though we’ve had our share of skiffs,” Black Smith told The Giant on the day the latter traveled to the Minelands, “I do believe we make better friends than enemies. Go now, The Giant, go and feed your tribesfolk. I could think of none more deserving of this monumental tool.”
Of course, The Giant didn’t keep the auger all to himself. Each day he would set out with the Monks fishcatchers to their slice of the Wanaque between the waterfall and the North Floodgate and he would drill enough holes to last two days, then he’d make the steep hike up to Monksville and do the same for the Forge fishcatchers. Many fish were caught that winter, many fish indeed, and though none were of the muskellunge persuasion, no giant went hungry.
As for the rest of the denizens, the same can be said! No hawks have gone hungry yet, though the small game around the Wanaque river is decreasing thanks to the establishment of the squirrel hive in The Crater – that means no hawks have come back to invade The Sticks, which is good fortune for all birds, of Prey and of Lake alike.
Springtime brought an influx of giants in boats to the Reservoir, but the fish population could handle it. The Giant set out from dawn until dusk every day that spring; he pulled many fish from Monksville’s maw, but never a muskellunge. One early morning he approached Black Smith, who was enjoying a solo powwow at the southern boat launch, and asked if he could craft a new kind of lure, a lure worthy of doing battle with the biggest lakebreather to breathe in the lake. Before the spring was over, The Giant had it, his spoonplug, a beastly piece of work bent to make it swim as it’s pulled behind a moving boat and painted with vibrant oil-based dyes to attract the curious eyes of surface- and depthswimmers alike.
The summer brought both a great triumph and a horrific tragedy – The Giant had finally caught his muskellunge, the male of the pair he released, from the measure of the thing. It survived, by the Great Spirit it survived! As for the tragedy? Upon release, the lakebreather went into a spastic frenzy and tried to attack The Giant’s watercraft, and when The Giant dropped his right oar back into the water, the blade collided with the muskellunge’s crown and shattered his skull, killing the massive finwhipper instantly. Leonidas, the only surviving son of the muskellunge, saw the entire gruesome battle transpire from deep in the depths of Muskellunge Cove, and when the lifeless body of Anaxandridas was pulled from the water a second time and not relinquished back to his kingdom, Leonidas understood very well what had gone down. He was now the last muskellunge alive in Monksville, and with a body dwarfed by a giant’s jiggin’ rig, he did not a fearsome king make. Leonidas kept to Muskellunge Cove after that day. The Giant, awash in shame, swore to keep off of Monksville.
Then, in the autumn, a peculiar sort of incident occurred, one which relieved Leonidas of his worries regarding kingship. A new king arrived in the waters of Monksville that night, but it was not introduced by the giants. It did not come from the Wanaque River, and surely it did not swim up the waterfall; some denizens claim it fell from the sky, though the otters knew better. The otters were swimming in the stretch between the islands when it happened, and after seeing it with their own eyes, they left Monksville behind without even shaking her water from their fur. Yes, something very enigmatic happened that autumn night, the night which would have marked the birth of The Crater had it occurred in the second cycle after the filling of Monksville: in the open water above the strange, smooth boulder that tumbled into the Reservoir as the ground shook from the impact which birthed The Crater, a huge, brilliant sphere of yellow-green light opened like the eye of a puma under the glow of the moon, and the waters of Mother Monksville trembled like a dead leaf in the wind.
On that fateful autumn night, The Gleam opened wide, and from within it, The Beast howled forth.
The Fourth Cycle
The fourth cycle brought the onset of a sinister kind of famine to Monksville Reservoir, one delivered not by the Great Spirit but by the maw of a false god. The lakebreathers noticed the poverty immediately; the wingflappers took notice by spring; summer brought the disappearance of any landwalker gutsy enough to take a refreshing dip; by autumn the giants could no longer deny the shallow catch baskets they carried back to their villages each night.
The Fifth Cycle
The fifth cycle marked the bitter end of ice fishing on Monksville for all giants, all but one; why waste time drowning bait in the cold when one could hunt and bring back a warm pelt along with a meal?
“Because something darker than a starless night has tainted these waters over which we are supposed to be stewards, and something must be done.”
Back in The Sticks, both vultures and gulls were beginning to die off from starvation. This prompted Monksville’s vultures and gulls to scour the Wanaque River, much to the disdain of the red-tailed hawks whose flock was already losing plumage from the lack of small game, and tensions only increased with each passing day. The lakebreathers kept to deep water as often as possible, though even this did not save them from The Beast’s evil hunger. The landwalkers, while mostly unaffected by the vile aquatic creature as they consume whatever the land provides them, did have suspicions that something was off down in the depths of Monksville, but what could be done?
“Well, what can be done, my fellow tribesfolk?”
“Nothing,” said most giants.
“Something,” returned The Giant, and though he was unsure of exactly what had to be done, he was unwaveringly certain of one thing: it would be done either on the ice or in a boat, and it would be done by him and him alone.
The Sixth Cycle
At last we have arrived – the sixth cycle since the reservoiring of Monksville, the crescent moon valley crimped between a snowcapped mountain filled with precious metals and a curved arc of its brothers. This cycle denotes the start of our main story, but not quite yet, small giants. For autumn to come, first must past summer, and before that the spring, and before that, winter must come and go, pulling its cloak of wind and ice along with it.
The winter provides a fruitless ice fishing season for The Giant, but he does not give up. The famine grows worse with each passing day.
The springtime provides a fruitless fishcatching season for The Giant, but he does not give up. The famine continues into austerity.
The summer provides baked red skin which falls off in peels, along with a fruitless fishcatching season for The Giant, but he does not give up. The famine, while not quite dire, is nothing to sneeze at. The trees of The Sticks are bleached white from the sun and the Wanaque’s waters south of the North Floodgate begin to seep into the parched Earth, the surface nearing ever closer to the bottom.
This tale began with the giants, and will surely end with them, too, but for now we shall leave them be. Much is yet to happen within the domain of The Mighty Mother Monksville, much to happen indeed; now you know how what is came to be. What comes next is what will be, and as for what that is, we shall have to wait and see.
Autumn falls upon The Sticks like the corpse of a starved gull into the murky drink, and more hawks are seen with each passing day. Lord Hilaetos must take action, the mystics demand it, and as Lord of The Sticks, he must bend to his subjects’ whims… but what can really be done? For every red-tail chased away, two more flock to Monksville the very next day. Chasing geese is one thing, but chasing after hawks? They’re Birds of Prey, have they not the same right to reside in The Sticks as those who currently roost amongst these hallowed swamplands?
As the great shine rises, the witch doctor rattles the air with a shrill screech like talons scraping rock. They shall meet tonight then, the owl and the osprey, under the glow of the rising moon, and they shall hold their silent palaver to discuss whatever it is the owl means to discuss. But, for one heavenly body to rise into the starpool, one must first set and pull the blue mantle of the diurne sky below the mountains. Until then, Lord Hilaetos will find a suitable branch and hold perch, just like he does every day.