They hold watch over The Beast.
It came from within The Gleam.
The ice capping Monksville is thin and brittle; above, the clouds are dark and full. The wind howls with the ferocity of a rabid wolf, but the snow does not fall. Not yet.
With a gimpy wing, a hanging beak, and a broken leg which dangles and swings like a dead twig attached only by the fibres of its bark, the captain of the dayguard flaps haphazardly to the edge of The Sticks. His flight is erratic, pained, uncontrolled, he dips and rises like a lost feather carried by the wind; as he approaches his branch, he fears he will fall short of making perch. Behind him the croons and squawks of his gullflock clash with the raging war shrieks of the Red Hawk Flock. They have invaded The Sticks; judgement day has come to The Basin in full form. The channel is gaping open, swollen from the heat of the battle even on this, the coldest day since the Monksville Reservoir’s first winter.
‘They’re here, they’ve really come,’ Choridae sends to nobird in particular. ‘I must find Lord Hilaetos, he must be warned before it is too late.’
He approaches the branch and tries to make perch, but his left wing is badly clipped. Choridae comes within a beak’s reach of the branch then plummets, having just enough time to send a thought of apology and gratitude to his Lord of The Sticks before he shatters the flimsy ice and joins his many brethren in the metaphorical belly of the beast. Little does the gull Choridae know there lurks a real beast beneath the surface, The Beast, who awaits his fall eagerly, its monstrous maw stretched open, its jagged razor teeth fiending for the taste of yet another denizen’s soul. Its hunger will never cease, its thirst for blood will never be quenched, and the unfeeling pit in its center will never be filled.
Lysander swoops in with blinding speed and catches the gull on his back. The Beast howls with rage, then all thoughts are consumed by the buzz. It ventures deep into The Sticks, eyes bloodshot and fins whipping, and begins to feast on the fallen.
Above the freezing water Lysandra waits on a fallen tree caught by two others, suspended there like a bridge built by giants. The gull hops off the eagle’s back and tries to gain his bearings, but then hobbles and teeters near the edge. Lysander catches him with a spanned brown wing and guides him back to the center of the log. It’s then that the eagles notice the red gash spanning the gull’s belly – the male eagle is rendered thoughtless, unable to send a single sentiment.
Lysandra, on the other wing, manages just fine. She slowly approaches him with tears freezing as they stream down her white face feathers, sending, ‘Highest Choridae, what happened to you?’
‘It’s the damned hawks,’ Choridae sends as a steady shiver takes him. ‘The Red Hawk Flock, they’ve come. We tried to fight, high pair eagles, believe me we did, all of us. The young, the old, even I – as their captain I had every chance to escape when the feathers began to fly, I gave my orders and I had safe passage to the Northern Leg, but I stayed. I stayed and fought, I was among the first wave to respond to the assault, I had to defend my flock, but… there were too many. Are too many. The dayguard doesn’t stand a chance. Where… where is…’
Choridae’s pale eyes begin to flutter and his head nods back and forth. The pair eagles shriek in unison, bringing their friend back to the forefront.
‘Where is Lord Hilaetos? They’ve come for him, surely that’s why they’re here. We must warn him, before it’s too late!’
The eagles look gravely to one another with a bitter kind of realization in their eyes. Then, from the mind of Lysander, ‘Worry not, Highest Choridae, we shall find the Sea Hawk. You’ve done well today, your work is complete – save yourself and take flight, do not stop until you reach the Southern Expanse.’
‘The Southern Expanse?’ Choridae sends doubtfully. ‘But those waters belong to the Birds of Lake, I cannot–’
‘You can and you must,’ Lysandra firmly sends. She bends low and gently caresses Choridae’s little head with her own. ‘Find the vulture flock, they will take care of you and provide shelter. We shall join you in due time.’
‘High pair eagles, what do you mean to do?’
The eagles look to one another again with those same grave hazel eyes, but not in realization. They look to one another now with a sad kind of certainty and knowing, an acceptance of a fate which has long been flapping their way.
‘We mean to join you as soon as we can, Choridae,’ sends Lysander. An orchestra of wild shrieks and kee-awws batter the ears of all those perched in The Sticks. ‘Yes, just as soon as we can. That is my promise.’
With his promise made, Lysander spans his mighty wings and takes flight to the treeline beyond the grassy eastern shores of The Basin. Lysandra looks into the pale yellow eyes of Choridae and sends no thought; there is no need for such formalities, not now. She helps the captain of the dayguard to his feet, placing the tip of one wing under his lacerated belly to steady him, and watches him take off. The flight is a totter at best, but he makes it to the giants’ footbridge well enough. As soon as the whites of his tailfeathers (and the red flowing over them) disappear under the bridge, she flaps wing to join Lysander in roost.
Far behind Lysandra, three hawks follow in triangle formation, their talons all smeared a deeper scarlet than their tails. Snowflakes begin to fall from the stormclouds.
Lysander is perched on a high branch in a tree that’s stood bare since before last summer. His eyes scan The Basin like the owl will scan a field lit by twilight, then his gaze finds his soulbride. When he sees what approaches her rear, he shrieks raging war and shatters the high branch to splinters with the force of his takeoff.
The Tide Churns
Lysandra feels her soulgroom’s rage as he takes flight in her direction. She gazes behind her, unsurprised by the three hawks but disconcerted nonetheless. She flaps her mighty brown wings thrice to rise then spans her wings flat against the wind, dumping her speed and watching with murder in her eyes as the triad of red-tails soars past, their bottom beaks hanging low, their faces tangled into muddles. The back two hawks face forward in time to see Lysander bear down on the front flier, his talons striking the hawk’s frail neck as though it was nothing but a lowly lakebreather. Lysander grips down ‘til the hawk’s neck breaks and rides this first victory until its body shatters the ice, then relinquishes his grip. The Beast swallows the dead hawk whole as the other two scatter with Lysandra hot on their tailfeathers.
The chase does not last long. The pair eagles, masters in the ways of the hunt and of the scav’, cross in midair before the two hawks and then circle back, crossing again behind them and clanking their talons in the process. The noise, similar to the sound of a hammer striking hot iron, is the last thing those hawks hear before a sick warmth fills their throats, before they are falling with the snow, before a deathly cold grips their soaked, matted feathers. The pair eagles do not consider landing; more hawkish war shrieks demand their attention and they give it, oh do they ever give it, and isn’t it amazing how they smile as hawk after hawk is felled into the icy drink.
The Beast eats despite the buzz tormenting it, though its brain begins to bleed ever so slightly. The Dome can wait – there is a grand merry meal to be made here, and the lakebreathers of the Northern Leg will be grateful for the postponement of their deaths.
When the onslaught of hawks finally ceases – for an extended moment, at least – the pair eagles make their way back towards the bare tree with the shattered high branch beyond The Basin’s grassy eastern shore. They’re not in the least bit surprised to see Lord Hilaetos perched on that shattered branch, his one talon gripping bark, the other gripping flayed wood. The channel, as open as ever, stays ominously silent as the snow squall snowballs into a fierce blizzard and the ice thickens with pops and jukes below.
The Sea Hawk watches the eagles’ approach with his wings tightly folded, his eyes unblinking even against the fury of the storm. He expects to be struck down where he perches; he is not, and so he empties his lungs in a puff of steam and fills them back up with frigid winter air.
‘Pair eagles,’ he sends regally, looking down at them from his high, broken perch. ‘That was a most impressive showing. You must feel very proud of yourselves.’
‘As we should,’ sends Lysander, a hunch in his back. ‘This day will end with your plumage pierced by my left talon, Hilaetos; you’re either brave or stupid for showing your traitorous beak.’
Hilaetos flaps his wings twice and shrieks with his brow furrowed, taken aback. Lysandra prepares to take off and finish the fiend herself, but her soulgroom raises a spanned wing. He’s lucky, so very lucky, that she loves him.
‘I had nothing to do with the slaughter of the gullflock, high pair eagles. You know as well as I those Birds of Lake had no place in our keep; they had it coming!’
‘How dare you?!’ sent with a mighty scream, a scream echoed by his bride. ‘The dayguard dedicated their lives to you and your keep, Sea Hawk! Highest Choridae would have perished had I not swooped in! He had the chance to escape and he stayed, he stayed and he fought! He’s more honor in a single tailfeather than you will ever know!’
‘You send of honor; I send of foolish pride.’
‘Pride?!’ Lysandra sends, wishing she could spit. ‘He stayed for your sake, Hilaetos, he was trying to warn you! To save you! Little did the gull know, ‘twas he who needed saving from you.’
The Sea Hawk draws his head back a feather’s width upon receiving this thought. He makes no other moves. Snow begins to pile on the ice, has long been piling on dry land. More terrible shrieks explode from across The Basin and the Sea Hawk can’t help but point his leering stare that way. The pair eagles don’t take their eyes off him.
‘He was a good gull,’ Hilaetos finally sends, his tone of thought laced with a certain twang of regret that brings a hard quease to the stomachs of the pair eagles. ‘As good as a Bird of Lake could be, anyway. He’d have done well to flee this keep along with the sick vulture flock; I cannot and will not be held responsible for the consequences of his self-righteous actions.’
This time Lysandra leaps, and Lysander does not stop her. Hilaetos flaps quickly and dodges death by a stroke of great timing and nothing else. The bald eagle manages to graze one of his legs though, and when she lands, she tastes the fresh blood on her talon. It tastes of scales and the flesh of lakebreathers, the blood of one who eats well while those around him starve.
‘We both saw this coming and did nothing to stop it,’ Lysander sends, preparing to leap. ‘For that we shall pay dearly… but first you will be made to suffer, Sea Hawk!’
‘I think not, pair eagles,’ as he spans his eagle’s wings. It is now Lysandra who holds her partner back, and thank goodness she does; three, four, even five red-tailed hawks they could take on without a problem, but the flock which dives from above and surrounds Hilaetos is much greater in number than five. The pair eagles would die to avenge Choridae after what the poor gull’s been through, without hesitation, with joy in their eyes, damnit… but they would rather live to fight with him another day.
No, they won’t take down the Sea Hawk, nor will they take out any more of his dastardly little cohorts, not those with the evil red tails nor the one perched beside Hilaetos, the one with the scarlet plumage adorning his shoulders. There will be no more bloodshed under these dark storm-clouds – so long as all the gulls have already been slain, that is. Both bald eagles shudder at the thought.
‘We will leave The Basin, Hilaetos. The Sticks is yours to share with the Red Hawk Flock, as you so clearly prefer it that way,’ sends Lysander, his beak clenched so tightly the keratin threatens to crack. ‘But I must know one thing first, so long as you would send it – why? Why have you forsaken the vultures, why have you forsaken the gulls, why have you forsaken us, Lord Hilaetos? We who have perched by you since the day we flocked to The Sticks?’
The many hawks trade amused glances, their eyes lit and cheerful with sparks of humor and victory. For a long moment the Sea Hawk sends nothing, merely looks down at this pair of bald eagles he once risked his own flecked plumage to save. Why has he forsaken them? Better yet, why does he allow himself to believe their lies, to receive their false blame?
‘Nobird evicted you from this kingdom, pair eagles – the hawks have–… well, the hawks had qualms with the gulls, as all Birds of Prey have with all Birds of Lake. You two forsook yourselves with your gross and unprovoked mauling of your fellow Birds of Prey. Now, begone! And feel fortunate for being given the chance, before my new flock and I change our minds and strike you down where you perch.’
The pair of bald eagles need no further convincing – they’ve known the Sea Hawk was a great many branches shy of a proper nest, yes, they’ve known it true for many shinecycles now, but they never thought it would come to this. They never thought the fool capable of flapping so low, but as one may say: The tide churns, the wind blows, and the seasons always change.
The pair eagles flap wing and leave The Basin behind. The channel closes as they swoop low under the giants’ footbridge and cross into The Northern Leg. Behind them, a Sea Hawk’s victory shriek is drowned out by a demonic chorus of hotblooded kee-awws. The awful shrill pitch of the Red Hawk Flock’s cry brings cracks to the ice below.
With his old wooden sled filled to the lip with tools for the catching of fish through ice, The Giant prepares to head north up a hillside once deemed treacherous. He stands under the hide awning of his cabin, the only awninged cabin in the entire Fishing Village, and calmly smokes a bundle of kinnikinnik rolled in a preserved leaf. He enjoys smoking during a blizzard almost as much as he enjoys smoking during a rainstorm – when water falls from the sky in any form, it’s best for smoke to rise.
Bundled in many layers of whitetail garb, one of the shamanfolk approaches, the cuffs of his pant legs soaked from trudging through the snow.
“Hai, high shaman,” The Giant says, nodding his head upwards. The shaman replies with an upwards nod.
“Hai, fishcatcher. I sense your sled is full – you mean to set out on the Wanaque?”
“Nay.” He tokes on his herbs and flicks the worm of ashes off the burning end. “I go north to Monksville, just as I do with every rise of the great shine. Do you care to join me today, Shinewatcher? Perhaps you may bless my venture and I’ll return with ample loot.”
The high shaman leaves the storm and ducks under the awning. “Why must you persist with the Monksville Res’, fishcatcher? It has been cycles on cycles since any catch was pulled from that deadzone of a lake. The fish swim freely in the Wanaque, why not make it easy on yourself?”
The Giant tokes his herbs again, deeply this time. He only exhales when the smoke begins to claw at his lungs. “Because, high shaman, such is my duty. I released two muskellunges into that lake many cycles ago, and since then I’ve only caught back one. And the one I caught…”
He trails off, lowering his gaze to the frozen dirt. He takes another toke and says no more.
“I remember it well. A fine meal it made.”
“‘Twas not meant to be a meal, high shaman. They were meant to hold a sacred balance, and I killed one of them. I need to find the other, to make sure it’s still alive. To make sure I’ve not done irreversible damage to this ecosystem with which we thrive or die.”
The high shaman nods his head slowly up and down whilst stroking his long, white beard, the hair tough and course like dried stalks of tall grass. “The one you caught was male, correct?”
The Giant lifts his eyes to meet the blind shaman’s, those cloudy aquamarine orbs, and nods in agreement.
“And the other was female, as spawning pairs must be. Perhaps the buck offed the doe, if you don’t mind my getting out with it.”
“Not at all, though I won’t accept it as truth.” The Giant tokes again then flicks the roach, his fingers scorched by the heat of the embers. The snow is piling up high in the village, the tracks the shaman made on his way over have already vanished, consumed by the icy white blanket. “I mean to set off now, Shinewatcher. Shall you join me and bless my voyage?”
“Is the ice thick enough to fish yet?” the high shaman asks with some concern. “The southern half of the Res’ is wide and expansive, and very slow to freeze, as I’m sure you’re aware. Especially out in the middle.”
“I am aware, and it is; with a blizzard like this the ice thickens quick. Even if the center of the lake isn’t safe to walk, the coves surely will be.”
“And if they’re not?”
The Giant nudges his old sled with the toe of his moc’. “Then I shall float on my sled, it’s buoyant enough for one. Perhaps even two; I ask again, shall you join me and bless my journey today?”
“Nay, fishcatcher. I shall not help run a fool’s errand, no matter who the fool may be.”
“Off with you then. May your walk back be swift.”
They bump fists and the high shaman takes his leave, The Giant watching as he treks away. When the old crone is safely back inside his cabin, The Giant grasps the cold sinew lead and begins to pull his wooden sled, leaving a deep trench in his wake.
The pair eagles reach North Cove and take perch inland, resting on a low-lying branch. The snow accumulated on their wings despite their heated flapping, simultaneously melting and freezing to form heavy coats of ice. Lysandra chips the shells off Lysander’s wings and shivering back with her beak, and then he returns the favor. Finally, with their wings unencumbered, they take a moment to roost up and catch their breath properly. The blizzard – though that word pales in comparison to the unrelenting swarm of snowy butterflies hatching from their chrysali in the skies and fluttering down to greet the world – only seems to get heavier with each passing moment. When they left The Sticks they were able to see the shoreline and follow it here; now it seems as though they’ll have to walk when they return to… return to where? The pair no longer has a home in the petrified jungle in which they’d taken roost for all these cycles. Never has the snow fallen with such virile and intensity, never have the temperatures dropped so low so fast. Before the onset of the storm, Monksville’s cap of ice was no thicker than a feather – now, it could likely support the weight of the black bear who lives in the cave in the mountains.
The channel opens narrow and fluctuates with the snowfall, creating a warbling effect in the transmission of thought. The pair eagles pretend not to notice, but it hits their brains like the talon of a diving eagle into the neck of a hawk.
‘Highest Lysander, it seems we’re stranded. What are we to do?’
‘I do not know, Highest Lysandra.’ He peers out across the Reservoir but sees nothing, not even the surface. They could be roosting on the canopy for all they can tell. ‘How could he do this to us? To the vultures? To High Choridae and all his gullflock? That damned Hilaetos… it’s twisted, it’s downright blasphemous, it’s, it–’
‘I know not, my love,’ Lysandra sends, clenching her beak. Her brain feels like it’s swollen larger than her head; the eagle can feel the snowstorm’s frozen touch through her feathered skull. ‘But there’s no use in asking ourselves what the traitor could not answer. Would not answer. He was too far gone, swept up in the cult’s wavelength.’
With trembling feet and numb toes, Lysandra inches closer to Lysander. He opens his right wing and takes her under, shielding her from the harsh whiteout. They roost together like this for a couple moments, reminiscing on the good times they shared in The Sticks, remembering all the surfaceswimmers and ‘munkies and all the other prey that fell to the weight of their talons. They regret but a single thing: that Hilaetos is not amongst the memories of those felled.
‘We can’t stay here for long,’ sends Lysander despite the channel’s snowy bucking. ‘The canopy is collecting most of the snow for now, but soon it will outweigh what the dormant branches can handle. They will break and we will be buried.’
‘But where are we to go, Lysander?’ sent weakly and without opening her eyes.
The pair eagles consider this quandary until the snow gathers on Lysander’s beak. They come up with nothing, and then…
She stands straight and hops to the right, allowing her soulgroom to fold his wing and feel his own warmth.
‘High Choridae! He escaped, Lysander, we sent him off ourselves! Did you see any gulls resting dead on the ice while we flew through the storm?’
‘No, but would we have? He was in tragic form and his feathers are whiter than the snow. Surely we would have missed him.’
‘We could have missed him, I think you mean to send, and I disagree! His beak and his web-footed legs are as vibrant as our own beaks – if he had perished as he flew we would have spotted him easily! Highest Lysander, do you know what this means?!’
He does not, at least not until the muffled squall of a certain wingflapper with a lack of feathering on her dome breaches the storm. It comes from the south – what the pair eagles think is the south, anyway – and it sounds off twice more before relenting.
‘The Vultress, it had to be. No other denizen is capable of a cry so deafening.’
‘Deafening? I could barely hear it. Had she not repe–’
Lysandra stands tall and spans her wings out, issuing a mighty scream. A moment of snow falling silently. The eagles stare out intently into the blindness around them, their minds deathly quiet and their mighty eagle hearts beating with force against their ribcages.
Then, ‘Praise Mother Monksville, you eagles survived. The channel is not stable in this storm, I can already feel my brain swelling up. Sending over such a distance is not sustainable, not now. You must find your way to South Cove. Sanctuary awaits.’
The channel closes up, giving the pair eagles no other option. Lysandra looks at her soulgroom with wide eyes that seem to ask how they’re meant to get there. Lysander gives his soulbride a look which suggests they walk along the shore and hope they are not buried. Then, the channel opens and closes in a split second. In the interim, the pair eagles catch the following:
‘Avoid The Crater at all costs, lest you be trapped in the chasm.’
The eagles know not what a chasm is or even what it might be, but they take the hint nonetheless. The blizzard relents slightly for a few miraculous moments, gifting the pair eagles their sight. The snow is piled high across the entire reservoir and higher yet in the canopy of the forests on either side, but the earth is bare enough. Not snowless, but bare enough, though that may not actually matter – if they launch now and beeline down the last stretch of the Northern Leg, they cou–
The blizzard picks up again, blinding the eagles. They did not see nothing, though; they know what they must do if they are to reach their promised salvation.
The pair eagles take flight into the snowblast and cut south across the Reservoir. They come to the Minelands and find a wide dirt road, a footpath used by giants. They follow the beaten path south, hoping the mystic did not misguide them.
Long Dirt Roads
A pair of tip-ups, a jiggin’ rig, a lidded bait bucket, and the mighty auger, its spiral blade untarnished after multiple cycles of use – these are the supplies loaded into the sled which The Giant pulls uphill through the heavily falling snow. The once treacherous climb has long been made mellow by the construction of the giants’ dirt roadways, but that means nothing to the blizzard. This blizzard is a force of nature, a wrathful creature with a will all its own sent by the Great Spirit to wreak havoc on the giants and all the other denizens of Mother Monksville’s keep for the inexcusable crimes they’ve committed against her time and time again. Denizens eating other denizens, giants stomping supple grass until it lies dead in long dirt roads, and The Giant, perhaps the most despicable of all, he who killed the very apex ‘breather he released into the lake in the first place. This blizzard has been a long time coming, The Giant is sure of that, and he deserves every frozen flake that falls upon his raw, numbed face.
Though they’re not really flakes, are they? Were these airy ice crystals colored in yellows, oranges, and reds he would mistake the winter for late autumn when the trees shed their leaves in great swathes, almost as if they plan it, almost as if the trees communicate with one another through their roots in a way unfathomable to beings with eyes in their heads. But it is not autumn, it’s the dead of winter and the beginning of a new cycle, ‘tis furious snow that falls from the sky in large clumps on this dark day. Still The Giant presses on, his moccasins strapped with metal claws so he does not fall victim to the slope. The sled follows obediently behind him, its strap heavy in the numb calloused hands of its puller.
‘It’ll be a blessing if I crest this hill,’ The Giant thinks to himself as his claws dig into the frozen dirt. ‘A miracle if any of the bait survives.’
It’s a miracle The Giant has bait at all; as per usual, he was the last fishcatcher to set out of the lower village this morning. Many of his tribesfolk fish the tamed stretch of the Wanaque Res’ day after day – the giants of the Fishing Village would perish if they did not – but only one auger was ever crafted, and the mold was broken after it was made. Not Black Smith’s most brilliant play, but he did it out of respect for The Giant – in his eyes, no other member of his kind is worthy, or capable, even, of wielding such a powerful tool. So, every shinerise, The Giant follows his fishcatchers onto the frozen stretch of tamed Reservoir – hot air rises whilst cold air sinks, and the waterfall only helps with the freezing – and he drills their holes. Then he returns home, visiting the fish hatchery on the way to gather his own bait, and loads his sled. His choice of bait is normally not extensive, despite the respect his villagers claim for him (he does not blame them, as he’s the last to dip into the reserves), but today there were a trio of ample shiners and even a freshwater eel. A traveling merchant traded the slimy snakefish for a bucketful of bass before setting off for the Southlands a few shinecycles passed; The Giant knows not where this merchant found the eel, but he does know one thing: something a’swim in Mother Monksville is going to take it today. Something big, and it shall take it very well.
Hauling his loaded sled up the once treacherous climb is a daily routine for The Giant and it does not get easier with time, but never has the climb been as difficult as it was when he was just a small giant migrating from the lowlands up to the crescent moon valley. Not until today; the snow continues to fall, in clumps, not in flakes.
Can’t Last Forever
The footpath running through the western Minelands is a well-traveled walk, though the eagles cannot tell. The snow begins to pile despite the cover of the canopy; the way ahead resembles a kind of tunnel except no light lies at the end, only more snow falling in clumps and mounds as it weighs down the branches above.
At first the eagles only walked, thankful to give their frozen wings a break. As the snow accumulated past their ankles they began to hustle, moving like ground turkeys except significantly less graceful. Now, when they can no longer bend their knees, the eagles cover distance with fluttery hops, their feet only touching the ground between glides. By the time they decide to just fly it, well… if one were to walk this path meaning to track the pair eagles, they would fail spectacularly and likely be buried by the momentous snowdrifts and ultimately frozen where they fell, left to be discovered come the spring thaw.
At last they come to the final bend in the trail; the only reason they’re able to recognize it is the sudden lifting of the claustrophobic feeling inherent in traveling through a long tunnel. The walls and ceiling open to dark clouds and thick, white air. The eagles perch on a bare branch, a rare commodity during this trying storm.
The channel opens very narrow – they have to huddle close together in order to share thoughts.
‘Do you know where we are?’
‘I’m unsure,’ admits Lysandra coldly. Ever since they arrived on Monksville the pair eagles have kept strictly to The Basin with an occasional odd flap along the Northern Leg to hold palaver with the witch doctor in North Cove. On those occasions, they would gaze down the stretch of water where north expands to south, and they have seen South Cove from afar before – it’s like The Sticks in that a once thriving jungle was submerged and left to petrify – but they’ve never faced a storm like this. Perhaps they could find it if the skies were clearer, perhaps even if the snow fell reasonably, but in a snowblast like this? And they followed the giants’ footpath, they were never even aware of the footpath before today. For all the pair eagles know, they’ve made their way to the Wanaque Reservoir.
‘As am I… I suppose we wait, then,’ sends Lysander. ‘This storm can’t last forever.’
‘And neither can we,’ with a very clear sense of worry in her thoughts.
Lysander can sense his soulbride growing colder and colder by the moment. He is too. They can’t last forever in this storm, they can’t last more than a shinecycle. They won’t last until shineset at this rate, and the storm may very well pick up in intensity. It may also weaken and thin out, but to experience a miracle is one thing; to rely on one’s occurrence is very much another, and so the pair eagles begin to look for a way out.
Another muffled squall booms through the blizzard, this time coming from the southwest. This time louder, this time closer.
‘Did you hear that?’ he sends, but of course she did. She’d have to be lame to have missed that, even with the deafening white shroud aloft in the air.
Lysandra turns to her soulgroom, looking excited. ‘We must take the risk, High Lysander. We must fly through the storm.’
‘But Lysandra, my love, if we falter…’
‘We musn’t. There’s nowhere else for us to go, nothing else to do. Our home has been taken from us by the very one who provided it – if we don’t cross this lake now, we may as well have stayed in The Sticks and tried to fight off those hawks. We may as well have let them vanquish us with the gulls. Those poor, defenseless gulls… we owe it to High Choridae.’
Lysander contemplates this with a heavy furrow in his frozen brow. ‘You are right, we must,’ he agrees, if not a bit reluctantly. ‘For High Choridae, we must. I shall lead the way; follow close behind, my love.’
But Lysandra’s already taken off; Lysander wallows in the channel alone. It closes as he leaps from the forest’s last bare branch and flaps wing into the blind and frozen hell falling over the Reservoir.
Having cleaned up the aftermath of the great avian battle at The Sticks, The Beast floats in The Basin with a belly full of soaked feathers. Many brave wingflappers fell on this day, ‘flappers of feathers both brown and white, and they were all swallowed whole by The Beast’s insatiable maw. He didn’t have a choice in the matter, though that’s not to say he didn’t enjoy every piece of flesh pierced by his jagged teeth, those bent stalactites and stalagmites lining his dark cave of a mouth; the buzz commands him, the infernal vibration, the sick love song of The Dome that plays and plays in his mind, never to relent. It stalks his every thought, decides his every movement. Ever since The Beast swam through that orb of yellow-green light, ever since his vast ocean gave way to this internment pond he’s heard the grinding buzz. Ever since then, The Beast has been commanded by the spectral wail.
A Wooden Cave
The vulture flock hordes tightly around the pair eagles and smothers their shivering bodies in heated feathers and wings. When the last two survivors of the Red Hawk Flock’s massacre finally begin to warm, they are allowed to see the light of day.
Having wasted no time since their fleeing of the old nesting grounds this past autumn, the vulture flock has transformed the once unclaimed South Cove into a safe haven for any Bird, of Lake or of Prey, who happens to be a’wander across Monksville. Many trees still stand, but some have been strategically felled – Pecker and Woody of the woodpecker flock helped with this, as did Buc’Toof the beaver – in the formation of a wooden cave just past the shoreline. It looks almost as if a giant had built the structure, the resemblance to their early lean-to shelters is utterly uncanny. Outside the snow is piled up high, but beneath the roof is dry earth. Frozen earth, with patches of mud suspended in miniature spires of ice, but dry earth nonetheless. The snow continues to fall, now in flakes, no longer in clumps.
At the mouth of the wooden cave The Vultress waits, the channel comfortably open.
‘Welcome to our sanctuary, highest pair eagles. We’re honored to have you among us.’
Lysander bows without sending a thought. Lysandra thanks The Vultress profusely, then joins in the bow.
‘Up, up! There’s no need for such formality, those days are past us now. My hunters should be returning soon with the means to have a Rite of Renewal. Please, join us pair eagles. You must both be very hungry.’
They are indeed, so they stay. The feast is ravenous and quick, even the bones are consumed.
‘‘Tis a true shame my dayguard fell on this day,’ sends Choridae with a beak full of gull breast, ‘but I am thankful some landed on the Reservoir’s shores.’
Following the meal, the eagles perch at the mouth of the wooden cave with The Vultress. Inside, High Choridae entertains the greater vulture flock with stories from his days as a seabird, detailing past dealings with giants who made raised roadways out of wood along the beaches and small mountain lions who would take refuge under these platforms. It was decided that Choridae would flock with the vultures until his wounds properly heal and he can fend for himself; whether that time comes in the spring, the summer, the autumn, or a cycle in the distant future matters not. They did not see it firstwing, but the vultures are all aware of the bravery the mighty seagull displayed when the Red Hawk Flock came flapping. He’s a welcome addition to their flock, as would be the high pair eagles, the expert scavengers they are; would be, that is, if staying was a real option.
‘That’s… quite unfortunate,’ sends The Vultress.
She gazes out across the meadow of frozen cotton that stands where a Reservoir may flow come the spring thaw, her mind heavy with the perception of many trillions of potentialities. From every new passing moment branches infinite possible futures, each of these outcomes birthing hoards of viable timelines while simultaneously bringing an end to just as many; what may once have been and what may still come to be are fickle things, The Vultress knows it very well, and for the longest she’s had a clear perception of what she believed was her destined future: to rule over her flock until an untimely death at the jaws of a terrible monster, one not inherently evil but cursed with life all the same. Upon her death, her flock would be handed over to the pair eagles and they would quickly claim perch over all of Mother Monksville, ushering in a new age of avian prosperity that would bring Birds both of Prey and of Lake to an equal footing with the giants – where things would continue on from there was always clouded in fogs of uncertainty, a few moves too far ahead for The Vultress to see, perhaps. But now, everything is foggy; those visions never included the gull Choridae, his survival of the Red Hawk Flock’s massacre at The Sticks was an unprecedented, unpredictable quirk of Existence, a metaphorical flap of a moth’s wing to veer off in pursuit of the moon rather than being engulfed by flames in its desire for light. The future of her flock is now up in the air; The Vultress doesn’t like it one bit.
‘And you’re both sure your staying here with my flock is impossible?’
‘Yes, High Vultress, I’m afraid it is,’ sends Lysandra. ‘We are eternally grateful that you took us in and fed us, we wouldn’t have survived the worst of the storm without your sending of thought up through the Northern Leg. But Lysander and I, we want to start a family. The Hatching comes each and every spring and we’ve never been able to participate, The Sticks was never large enough for us to build a nest suitable for raising eaglets.’
‘We need something big,’ sends Lysander, seamlessly continuing Lysandra’s thought stream. ‘A fortress similar to what your flock has here but up in the trees, ideally just below the canopy. We shall be invisible from the sky and inaccessible from the ground, and our chicks will be safe from whatever may seek them out, whether feathered or furred.’
The Vultress takes a moment to feel all this out. ‘And you’ll remain on Monksville?’
‘Of course,’ they send in unison. Then, from the mind of Lysandra, ‘We wouldn’t dream of leaving the Reservoir, we’ve too much history here. History and friends; ‘twould be a shame to leave either behind.’
The Vultress smiles faintly, as much as her beak will allow. The fog is beginning to clear now, but not all of it; a tunnel emerges through the haze, similar to the giants’ footpath through the western Minelands. At the end of this prophetic tunnel lies a long and jubilant life for The Vultress, a life of much renewal and a strong, able flock. This new future does not include The Sticks in any way, shape, or form; too does it lack a scaled threat constantly hidden below a wet and murky veil. This tunnel vision is novel, she has never conceived of it before and it disturbs The Vultress, yes, it disturbs the mystic very greatly, but she supposes she sees what’s meant to be seen.
‘Where will you build your fortress, pair eagles? The giants have colonized much of the forests already; surely you don’t mean to share space with them.’
‘No’no, decidedly not,’ sends Lysander, with a nod of approval from Lysandra. ‘We do not yet know, but we will figure it out. And soon, if Mother Monksville is willing. In truth we’d like to shove off when this storm relents.’
In truth he hadn’t mentioned this last to Lysandra, but she has no qualms. Lysandra loves the vulture flock, but their nesting grounds never emanated the most pleasant of odors, and having the scavengers congregated within such an enclosed space only makes the decision easier.
‘The clouds have already shed their blackness; soon the skies will be blue once more. The sooner we go the better, I think, as we do not know what the hawks might be planning next.’
‘Oh, I wouldn’t worry about them,’ sends The Vultress, and finally she turns to face them. Tunnel vision or not, there is one lone detail which has never been a concern regarding the Monksvillian future of the vulture flock and its cohorts, and that detail is the red-tailed hawks. ‘You have no idea where you may take your permanent roost?’
The pair bald eagles offer one another a look, as if to thoughtlessly send You got anything?
Then, from the mind of Lysandra, ‘No Vultress, we do not. We’d like to stay in the Northern Leg, buh–’
‘You shall go to The Crater, high pair eagles.’
‘The Crater?’ asks Lysander, gazing out to the north. ‘You told us to avoid that chasm at all costs, did you not?’
‘Aye, but only on your journey here. In truth, high pair eagles… in truth I wanted you to come here. No, I needed you to come here, I needed to be sure you survived the great folly of the Sea Hawk. There was something else, but…’ She trails off, grasping at a memory that only fades at each clutch of her astral talons. ‘Perhaps there wasn’t. Regardless, I warned you of The Crater because I knew if you found it before you came here, you would not have taken shelter and shared in a Rite of Renewal with us. Plus, High Choridae requested you make an appearance. I didn’t want to disappoint the great and powerful captain of the dayguard.’
The eagles glance back into the wooden cave and see Choridae standing on the back of a crouching vulture, flapping his wings as he sends to the flock the tale of his narrow escape from the clutches of a trio of hawks, the very same trio the pair eagles vanquished after aiding in his escape. He drops the eagles a sly wink and then goes on sending. The vulture flock swoons at his suavity.
‘What waits for us at The Crater, then?’ receives The Vultress from the mind of Lysander.
Then, from Lysandra, ‘Yes, Vultress, what could be so great that we would flap there before regrouping with you flock here?’
The Vultress smiles again, this one as vibrant as the great shine in summertime. ‘All will be revealed, highest pair eagles. For now I shall send only this: many things change as the seasons do, but one thing always remains constant.’ She pauses, adjusts her wings, then, ‘That one thing awaits you, as it does all of us at one time or another, though this time ‘twill not be egregious.’
‘What is it, then?’ sends Lysandra, looking rapidly from soulgroom to mystic. ‘What is that one thing?’
‘I shall send no more – come, pair eagles, join me in receiving Choridae’s tale. The blizzard will be a mere squall soon, and then you shall take flight.’
The pair eagles venture deep into the wooden cave on the tailfeathers of The Vultress to receive High Choridae’s tale; ‘tis a fine tale indeed, a yarn spun of bravery, courage, and undying loyalty, a high and spectacular tale to be sent and received by Birds of Monksville for cycles to come, long after its original teller has passed on. Life does not end when the long curtain is drawn, as you may or may not have been sent; there is merely a great transition, a passing through of sorts. Mayhap one day you shall wake as a turkey vulture under the perch of The Vultress – or maybe as a turkeygull in the Southern Expanse – and you too shall receive the great tale of High Choridae. Mayhap you will, small giants. Mayhap you will.
As they approach The Crater, heated thermal winds bask the wings of the pair eagles in a gentle warmth and lift them high above the canopy. The coating of snow melts off in steamy drops, leaving only a thin track of powder stretching from their heads to their tails like the stripe of a skunk. They do not expect it, but they greatly welcome the reprieve from the falling frost – Lysandra even does a barrel roll to melt the snow off her back. Lysander keeps upright, his wings flapping steadily, his eyes trained on the approaching hole in the canopy.
‘Isn’t it just wonderful, Highest Lysander?’ Lysandra sends as she sways through the heated air. ‘It’s as if a rouge spring wind has formed just to find us!’
‘‘Tis,’ Lysander sends flatly, his mind preoccupied. ‘Look ahead, Lysandra, and tell me what you see.’
Lysandra levels herself out and flaps wing even with Lysander. Up ahead of them she sees the canopy of the mountains rising behind Monksville’s two isles; set back in the space between them is a large dark hole. It seems to be coated in ice, as if the snow fallen there is trapped in an unending cycle of melting and immediate refreezing.
‘I see it, but… what is it?’
As they flap closer, the eagles begin to hear a kind of buzzing – not the buzz which forever taunts The Beast as he shreds the lakebreathing population of Monksville; that buzz is only audible to a monster with a heart as cold as the blood in its veins – rising from The Crater. There seems to be a dome of shimmering air capping the odd landmark, a plume of heated air hot enough to evaporate the snow as it falls. The buzz becomes louder the closer they approach, and they begin to pick out noises – barks, chirps, chitters, churrs – the noises of a trillion bumbling squirrels, live rodents in need of a carnivore’s belly to fill.
Finally they reach the chasm. As they circle over the mouth like buzzards over a slain carcass left to rot in the heat of the great shine, the eagles are greeted by a sight as terrifying as it is exhilarating: inside The Crater waits the indomitable squirrelhorde, rodents buzzing and yipping as they tirelessly sprint and hop from tree to tree, branch to branch, back to tail and head to back, entranced under the spell of momentum, generating massive body heat as they ceaselessly dash around and around in an endless loop of flurried motion. At The Crater’s floor is a pile of dead rodents, some squirrels, some ‘munkies, all perished from starvation, dehydration, or simple exhaustion.
‘The squirrels, they–’
‘They do their dance just like the rest of us, my love,’ sends Lysandra, both of her starving eyes fixated on the gyrating mass of fur and squeak. They circle over the top of the caldera for a short while, long enough to heat the hollows of their bones but not long enough to outlast the fading storm.
Then, Lysander sends and Lysandra receives.
‘Highest Lysandra, I do believe we’ve been found by that thing which always remains constant when all else changes with the seasons.’
She receives it very well but still sends her question, as if the bald eagle needed to confirm the law of nature. ‘What has found us, Highest Lysander?’
‘Death, my love, and now we shall bring it home.’
The eagles scream in unison before divebombing into the center of the spinning squirrelhorde, shrieking all the way through the cyclone.
One single squirrel escapes the massacre unscathed and burrows across the lake through the snow, finding safety in the dense forest surrounding Muskellunge Cove, the very forest where the screeching owl makes his roost in all seasons but the winter.
Three fishing holes drilled equidistant from one another surround The Giant down in Lure Cove. The first tip-up is set and the second is primed; all it needs is bait. The water in the bait bucket is cold, but not as cold as the water of Monksville, nor the cap of ice which seals it, nor the snow which covers that frosty seal. The storm seems to have passed, for the time being, at least – by the bite of the air against The Giant’s red-tipped nose he knows the winter has only just begun and Monksville is due for many more storms. But that’s the future and this is the now, and now, The Giant has bait to drown.
He hooked the first shiner cleanly enough, watched it swim about when he dropped it in the water; the second one is not so lucky. As he inserts the hook, a sneeze takes him and sends a wily twitch through his hand – the spine of the shiner is skewered and the little lakebreather dies instantly. As he watches the corpse sink down into the murky water, two bald eagles fly from South Cove in the direction of the two islands, but The Giant does not see them. He could not see them, even if he was looking their way – the snow still falls in a flurry. Though the visibility is greater now than it was as he trekked out here (when he crested the treacherous hill he found himself lost in a cloud, surrounded on all sides by impenetrable white), he still can’t see to the other side of Monksville. All the same he knows giants from the Mining Village are likely out on this Reservoir somewhere, probably using their pickaxes and shovels to break huge holes in the ice; he hopes they can forgive him for allowing them to break the holes for themselves today.
Remaining in the bucket are a single shiner and the freshwater eel. The Giant initially opened the bucket this third time with the intention of skewering the eel on the hook of his jiggin’ rig, but now he takes a pause. Drowning bait is one thing, but to sink a corpse in hopes of attracting something large and mighty? That’s just not feasible. To catch a muskellunge one needs to approach with smarts – merely using bait is not enough. The apex lakebreather must be enticed, it must be attracted to bait by more than the scent of it alone; the bait must have guile, it must be animate, it must be capable of giving the muskellunge a challenge, an obstacle to overcome, a reason to swallow whatever that shiny thing that protrudes from the back of the bait may be. Besides, he cannot jig with the eel on his line. The snakefish is much too large for that.
The Giant pulls the second tip-up and reels the line by hand, as one must when fishcatching with tip-ups. The lake water is just as cold as it was a moment ago, as cold as it shall be until very late in the spring when leaf buds have long since bloomed and lost the vibrant green hues of their birth. He unhooks the slain shiner and drops it in the hole. As it sinks untethered to the mortal realm, The Giant fishes the slick snakefish from the comparatively lukewarm bait bucket and manages to skewer it without inducing paralysis. He watches it slither into the depths before resetting the tip-up for action.
Upon the hook of his jiggin’ rig The Giant skewers his last shiner. It squirms in his hand even with the hook in its back, as if it doesn’t feel the pain at all.
‘Good,’ he thinks to himself as he drops the line into the third hole and a pair of eagles screams in the distance, ‘this one shall be a fighter. Mark my words: on this day, the last muskellunge of Monksville shall be caught.’
What little light pours through the hole in the ice fades as the eel swims further and further into the deep murky waters of Monksville’s Lure Cove, by far the deepest cove south of the submerged Wanaque Riverbed. A few slow-rising air bubbles glug past the eel as he dives; the lake is otherwise devoid of motion. A cold chill which has little to do with the temperature of the water suddenly swims through the eel’s spine – this Reservoir has an eerie sense of isolation about it. It’s as if the eel is among the last of the living lakebreathers to flap their gills in this lake. He eventually reaches the bottom, then tries to swim along the downslope to leave the dim corona shining from the hole above only to be tugged back by the barbed hook The Giant pierced through his ribcage.
In the distance the freshwater eel picks up two shafts of light shining down from the ceiling of ice just like the beam illuminating him. Tiny, bony little shiners swim in these shafts, shiners that would make a wonderful meal, as the eel hasn’t eaten anything but bland mushy pellets for as long as he can remember. Granted, the memory of the average freshwater eel isn’t the greatest, but to forget the taste of fresh meat is a travesty regardless of how well one can recall what has come to pass. He slowly waves his ray-finned tail in an attempt to coax the fishing line into stretching, perhaps to bring it to breaking strain, but the eel has no such luck. The fishing line, a Black Smith special, is made of metal, three iron wires of a minuscule gage woven together into an unbreakable rope. The Giant means to draw forth a grown muskellunge from these frigid waters; though the muskellunge is a mighty apex predator, it is just a lakebreather all the same. A simple lakebreather cannot snap a metal line, and though the eel is no simple lakebreather, he cannot snap the line either.
But he tries. Oh does he ever try, he tries and tries and tries some more until his long, slender body is gripped by the hand of exhaustion and the barbed hook of lost hope is thrust firmly through his ribcage, narrowly missing his spine. At a certain point even a baitfish knows when its day is approaching its long endless night; after spending enough time tethered to a fishcatching contraption, even a shiner will realize it would have been far better off if The Giant’s hand slipped and its spine was severed – at least in that case the death would be immediate, not drawn out at the mercy of whatever may fancy a free meal. The eel could perish at any time down here; he’s trapped, a sitting duck; no, a floating duck, Rhyac afloat in The Sticks, the proud leader of The Early Birds in the fleeting moments before Sea Hawk Hilaetos, Lord of The Sticks swooped in and decapitated him for little reason other than the fact the mallards chose to take a rest in the north end of the Res’ instead of the south.
Not a current flows by. The floor of the Reservoir is bare here, devoid even of coontail weeds.
What’s worse, the snakefish won’t just die a terrible and unpleasant death in the belly of Mother Monksville – first he’ll be stalked, watched by a lame predator, made to play a sick kind of mind game until the lucky finwhipper decides it’s time to eat, then, schluup. Down the hatch he goes. It’s all a matter of time.
But this thought doesn’t immediately occur to the eel, not until he’s exhausted himself fully. He’s a wily bugger; perhaps if he played the waiting game from the get-go he could dodge the snapping strike at the last moment, get the iron line caught between the hunting fish’s jaws and hope for a miraculous stroke of luck, or at the very least he could use the metal line to bring a reversal of fate upon his slayer-to-be. Then the eel could win his last meal, and maybe, just maybe, if the corpse didn’t immediately float up to the ceiling of ice or drift daintily out of his spotlight prison, maybe he could eat it, too.
Dreadful fatigue grips the eel’s gills as he realizes his time has run out. A pair of hollow, ghostly eyes stare him down from the edge of the cone of light. He doesn’t see a mouth, nor a fin, nor a tail, not that he would see the tail – he only sees a ghastly pair of dead, emotionless eyes staring at him from the inky blackness, the dark grody orbs reflecting what little refracted shinelight they can catch down here in the murky depths of the Monksville Reservoir. There’s no telling how long those eyes have been staring at the eel, no telling how much longer they’ll be staring at him. He only knows his time has come, or at least it is coming, slowly but surely until it ramps up and then, well… schluup. The owner of the eyes clearly means to devour him on the spot, why else would it be stalking him from the edge of concealment like a mountain lion does a small giant when dusk gives way to darkest night?
But the eel has one final trick up his gills, a last resort he was hoping not to use – to be slain by a lakebreather larger than himself is one thing, but to convene with it? To converse, to share thoughts sent across the channel? So much is unheard of to a lakebreather… then again, the eel was ripped from his river just as he meant to close his jaws around a particularly plump and juicy nightcrawler who tunneled until the dirt got suspiciously wet. Once a predator made to eat pellets and now reduced to prey – yes, so much of what goes on in this world is unheard of, but yet it goes on all the same.
Normally the channel will only open for the likes of wingflappers and those they deem worthy of exchanging thoughts – it is a metaphysical tool commanded by the pair mystics and wielded by all those who flap on wings around the greater keep of the Monksville Reservoir – never for a fish; but the eel is not just a simple fish, he is a mighty snakefish, a charmed sort of lakebreather, and as that ghastly pair of lifeless eyes floats ever stiller outside the doors of the eel’s perception, the channel opens and thoughts are duly sent.
‘I see you there, brother, fellow flapper of the gill and breather of the lake. Yes, I see you very well. You mean to bring an end to my life, do you not?’
The being behind the empty eyes offers no answer, no indication that it has received what the eel has sent.
‘If you believe you are hidden from me, brother,’ the eel sends with determination, ‘you are sorely mistaken. Your eyes glow like the full moon in a cloudless night sky and the vibrations from your stomach rumbles my own. I ask again, you come here to devour my very body and soul, do you not?’
The being behind the eyes only continues to watch. The luminous hollows do not drift, do not rise, do not sink; this evil onlooking thing merely floats there stagnantly, like a dead bird on the surface on an inert turtle pond.
‘Do you not receive these thoughts I send, brother?’ the eel sends furiously, the blood in his veins boiling. If the tables were turned and ‘twas the eel haunting a skewered shiner, he would at least have the decency to claim his ownership over such savage convictions. Especially if the baitfish called him out. ‘Receive this, then, and be damned to wash up on sandy shores – my name is Arguinos, and I was stolen from my home by a massive hand with skin rougher than a crawdad’s shell. I was carried many miles in a waterholding prison with walls I could not see. At first I believed I was abducted by the ones who swim in the starpool, but I see now I was gravely mistaken. I was stolen from my home to be used as bait, as a sacrifice so another may eat well, may eat far better than I ever have. My death was planned so another may live; damn you! You’ve won nothing, fiend! Damn you straight to land!’
The being behind the dead, hollow eyes floats forward slightly, one sluggish finstroke at a time, revealing to the eel a mouth hanging open, the bottom jaw weighed down by smooth conical teeth, teeth as spaced out as the look on the demonic thing’s face.
‘But do not for one moment believe that other is you, walleye; if you wish to bring an end to my life then move forever forward, but know this – as my life ends, so too will that of he who shall bring an end to it. Do you see the flashyshiny protruding from my back?’
The walleye’s dull, anemic eyes drift slightly upward, then immediately dart back down to meet those of the eel. Its jaw hangs low and its gills flap in a slow rhythm, the leisurely heartbeat of a denizen untethered to the will of those who walk the land.
‘I’ll take it you do, and I know now you receive these thoughts I send. You might consume me, walleye, digest my scaled flesh, crunch my bones and relish in the surely uncommon sensation of a stomach filled in this lake so devoid of life, but know this: what reaches skyward from my dorsal side will stay reaching skyward, but from your mouth. Aye, the line shall swim in the gaps between your vicious fangs.’
The walleye, now halfway revealed by the feeble cone of light, floats motionlessly and continues to watch, his gills still flapping, his jaw still a’dangle, his eyes as empty as a cloudless blue sky.
‘And do not fool yourself, not even for a second, into believing I lie to you out of spite, out of jealousy that your life may continue when my life shall surely end,’ sends Arguinos the snakefish, the first and only eel to swim in the Monksville Reservoir. ‘Do not trick yourself, walleye, into thinking it’s possible for you to make a meal out of me without being taken by that which took me; the line is attached to me by a piece thicker than it, aye, a piece bent and ending in a barb tipped with a razor and butted dull as a stone smoothed by the flow of a river. When you take me, as you surely mean to, that bent piece will pierce your frozen cheek and you will be taken as I was taken, as so many have been taken before, I must assume: by the hand of a giant. Do you receive what I send you, walleye? Do you see the direness of my present situation? Do you understand that I have nothing left to lose?’
The walleye’s full body enters the cone of light. On its top and bottom are dorsal fins laced with spines sharp enough to pierce the fins of any lakebreather who dares test the walleye’s guile. Arguinos, slick as a snake in the burrow of a ‘munkie, swims away to the far edge of the shinebeam and coils into a tight spiral, ready for the final battle he shall ever fight. The walleye stares blankly at this strange snakefish with a certain look in his eyes, a look mistaken by the eel for an insatiable kind of hunger, a hunger that cannot be satisfied by mere food.
The look in the walleye’s eyes is a look of fear, a look of lost hope to rival that of the dead shiner as it took in the last glimpse of the great shine before the giant’s twitch’ed hand severed the defenseless thing’s frail spine, a look of witnessed apocalypse buoyant with the knowledge that there is no longer any stopping what is surely on its way.
The snakefish sends more verbose taunts through the channel, but the walleye, its mouth dangling open like the channel, silences him with a whisper:
‘My name is Senvir, you foolish thoughtful brat, and you would do well to quell your rampant sending. There is a reason no lakebreather dares to open the channel, let alone use it to exchange our highest of thoughts.’
Yes, there is indeed a reason, a most terrible reason, a monstrous, beastly reason, a reason not of this lake but a reason which swims here regardless. A reason strapped with an everstarving maw, a reason torn internally as it struggles between dueling streams of command, a reason which appeared one dark, fateful night when the brilliant yellow-green glow of The Gleam unleashed a wretched false god to wreak its calamitous havoc upon the mighty Monksville Reservoir. A reason called The Beast.
In a fever The Beast swims up and then back down the southern stretch of the Northern Leg, his fins numb from overflapping, his neck bent and contorted like a knotty piece of driftwood. For four cycles now the buzzing of The Dome has commanded his every move, his every breath, every thought to boom and rattle through his reptilian head. The Beast did not ask to be abducted, to be stolen from his life, to be ripped callously from his family, to be plucked from his oceanic environment like an eel from a river, but he was, aye, he was taken haphazardly, grabbed by that effervescent shining light, consumed by it only to be reborn in different waters altogether, and the buzz has stalked him ever since, the infernal buzz, the hellish black noise that drives cracks in his skull, that grinds his jaws in such a way that his teeth may crack and shatter. The buzz has reduced the once proud and spirited and zestful for life Beast into an unhinged killing machine, into a lost soul damned to toil forevermore in this crescent moon Reservoir, to live until he dies, never reaching his full size, like a goldfish stolen from its massive pond and trapped in a glass prison fastened by giants.
Yes, The Dome’s infernal buzzing haunts The Beast, it drags him up and down the Northern Leg, it commands him to stay imprisoned in the submerged jungle where he must buck and weave through waterlogged trees, lest he wishes to level them all. But there is something else in the water now, something similar to The Dome’s buzz but of a different wavelength entirely, something more serene, a vibration which invites him rather than commands – a vibration emitted from the Southern Expanse where The Beast is made to toil from the onset of spring until the cool end of autumn when Monksville’s waters are still heated from the hot days of the summer.
As you well know (if I’ve done my job at all), The Beast is not a denizen of the Mighty Mother Monksville; he was not born here but brought here from a time and space far off from what we know as the here and now; like the two beings who inhabit The Dome, The Beast knows nothing of the channel; it cannot send thought, nor can it receive. However, unlike those who inhabit The Dome and use all the many instruments constantly at work inside its thick and tinted glass shells, The Beast can sense the channel, so long as it is opened by those who share in the breathing of lake.
There is a reason, I say, that no lakebreather dares to open the channel beneath the surface of the Monksville Reservoir – though thoughts are sent over a wavelength so benign, The Beast knows nothing except slaughter. It’s been forced to murder and consume ever since it howled forth from ocean to Reservoir, its brain has been washed and all the color has seeped out, leaving only a void, a void so unfillable no matter how many fall to the ungodly snap of its jagged, toothy maw. While the buzz causes pain, the channel causes pleasure, and fear can only rule over the mind of a living being for so long. Even if The Beast shall only be further bent under the will of The Dome when the serene vibration is silenced, it will gladly take its reprieve when such is offered.
As The Beast tears past The Dome the buzzing only intensifies, but the creature pays it no mind. The channel has been opened in the waters of Mother Monksville and it is shared by two lakebreathers, a duo soon to be a trio, a trio which shall sadly reduce to a single tortured monster of a maw most terrible and jagged.
The Giant sits lotus on an exposed patch of ice. He cleared the snow with the bait bucket which now sits empty in his wooden sled, devoid of both fish and the water needed to sustain them. The snow has ceased its falling and the stormclouds have parted to reveal a skyscape resemblant of a work of art; brilliant scarlets and lavish pinks slash the blues of the diurne sky to usher in the encroachment of purple dusk. Soon the day will fall and the starpool will fill with glorious heavenly gemstones, sparkling white diamonds embedded in a smooth mat of obsidian. What the shamanfolk say is true, then – following every storm that brings dark clouds to the skies is a period of calm so tranquil it could quell and sooth the most savage beast.
Well, the first half is certainly true; as for the second, we’ll have to wait and see.
For a great long time, The Giant stares into the sky with his jiggin’ rig in hand. When the snow still squalled he jerked the line in a perfect rhythm, if only to keep his mind off the temperature falling with the snow; now, the pulls are sporadic and unplanned. The shiner hooked to the end is dead, long dead, drowned bait in prime form; though he’s no way of knowing it, he knows it to be true all the same. This is not the first unsuccessful ice fishing trip The Giant has taken on Monksville and it surely will not be the last, but he’ll be damned if he doesn’t give it his all regardless.
After a while his neck grows stiff so he removes his gaze from the pastel sky and lends it to the snowy surface of the lake, and that’s when he sees it – The Giant doesn’t know if it just flew now or if it’s been waving in the air for minutes, possibly even hours, but he sees it nonetheless.
He sees it very well.
“Flag up!” shouts The Giant as he springs to his feet. He drops the jiggin’ rig to the ice with a hollow clack and begins to trudge without caution into the snowdrift, the only thing standing between him and landing the catch of his life.
From their perch on the frozen rim of The Crater’s canopy, the pair bald eagles hear The Giant’s wild, frantic shouts. They’re tempted to flap wing and join him in landing his catch, but they know they must not go. They would want a piece of the take, hell they would want the whole thing, and while they are sure The Giant would happily oblige and feed them that which they’ve not yet the opportunity to catch, they shall let the strange creature have his day. Before they left the humble home of the vulture flock, The Vultress told them she’d seen The Giant out on the ice every day since her flock left The Sticks behind; every day he climbs the hill beside the waterfall pulling his wooden sled behind him, every day he sits in the cold underneath the burning fireball in the sky, and every day he returns to his Fishing Village with a bait bucket as empty as his stomach surely is.
Yes, this time they shall let The Giant have his day. Perhaps he will leave them a scrap in return. Perhaps he won’t, but perhaps – perhaps – he will, and so he is given the chance.
“Flag up!” screams The Giant to no one in particular. “Flag up, I say! Fish on!”
The snow is piled up high in drifts fit to topple a cabin were they taken by the wind and cast over the waterfall; The Giant moves through it like a heated blade through deer butter. It has been two full cycles since his tribesfolk joined him on the ice of Monksville, but still he shouts his rally cry as if he was followed by dozens. The metal claws strapped to his feet leave great meaty gashes in the ice as The Giant plows his way from one point of his triangle to the next, parting the pink powdery snow colored by the shineset and leaving a deep trench in his wake, a trench far deeper than that carved by his wooden sled.
He drops to his knees immediately upon reaching the tip-up. The flag has stopped waving at this point. As he pulls the wooden contraption from the water, shattering the thin layer of ice that resealed the hole shortly after the tip-up was planted, The Giant sees he’s neither a moment too early nor a second too late – the spool is nearly spent, the wire nearly pulled to full length. Something big took the bait on this tip-up, but which tip-up is this? The cold worked its frigid way into The Giant’s mind, he cannot remember if this is the hole in which he planted the eel or the hole in which he planted the shiner…
‘But it doesn’t matter, does it?’
No, decidedly not; whether this tip-up was baited with the snakefish or the last shiner, something took the bait. Something massive, something fast, and by the speed the reel is spinning, something strong. There will be a fight, The Giant can see this much clearly, and so he dips into the pockets of his pants and reveals to the none watching a pair of thick deerhide gloves, fishing gauntlets crafted specifically for the handling of wire line on the coldest of winter days where fingers exposed to the frozen air and icy water may turn a venomous blue as the sensation is slowly pulled from them like meat from a crawdad claw left to simmer over an open campfire.
With his gauntlets strapped on and not thrown down, though they really might as well be, The Giant grabs hold of the line with his left hand and loops it around his right, anchoring him into battle. He feels a raw pull, then a jerk, then a downright tug as he’s lurched forward by whatever beastly thing may be on the hook end of this line. Lying beside him is the wooden tip-up, crossbeams still crossed and ready to catch hold of the surface of the ice cap, a last resort if the line is slipped from The Giant’s glov’ed grasp. His vision, once blurred by the snowstorm and then by the tears frozen to his eyelids as he ran through the snow, is now pristine and clear, and his blood runs hot as the bonfire he shall spark later on in the eve’ when he returns to the Fishing Village victorious.
That much is not guaranteed, though, and none know better than The Giant that to drill a proper hole in the ice, one must work the auger; first, he will have to land this lakebreather.
First, he will have to win the battle.
The Battle for Monksville
The Battle for Monksville first began long ago, a great deal of time before The Giant baited his second tip-up and sent Arguinos the eel on his final swim. The battle first began in the third cycle after the filling of the Monsville Res’, the battle waged on for four torturous seasonal cycles of pain, death, and famine felt by all and missed by none, and now on this arctic winter day, as the great shine sets and the moon illuminates the heavenly starpool like The Gleam illuminated the murky waters between the pair isles all those cycles ago, the battle will finally be decided.
There can be only one true victor; though the Mighty Mother Monksville bows presently to no king, she kneels before two gods, one false and malevolent, one true and pure of heart. That is not to say The Giant is a true god – goodness no, he’s a simple giant very much like you and I – and neither is it to say The Beast is any sort of higher being – do not dream of it, he’s just a lost soul, a monster from another realm displaced and ripped from his home, never to return again – but such things are clear to us and us alone, small giants, for we walk upon this world with an infinity spinning inside our skulls, we are capable of seeing things not necessarily for what they truly are, but certainly for something close to that truth. At least, that’s what I’d like to think, but I do so very often digress; to us and the other giants the difference between a god and a denizen is a simple one to discern, but to the denizens of Monksville? To the likes of lakebreathers such as Senvir the walleye who swam swiftly for murkier waters while The Beast howled forth and ripped through the Southern Expanse en route to Lure Cove, such a difference may not be as clear. Nay, it may not be as clear at all, it may in fact be murkier than the cloud of muck Senvir whipped up to shield himself from impending doom; to Senvir, two gods wage war in the waters of Monksville on this day, and the valley in which those waters sit trembles under the strain of the conflict.
The Beast took the snakefish in one foul gulp. He did not harm Arguinos, he did not puncture the eel’s slick and slimy form with his jagged teeth, he merely swallowed the eel whole. If another giant were to spin you this yarn they may spare your feelings and say Arguinos still lives, that the eel swims in the belly of The Beast as The Beast swims enraged in the belly of Monksville, but I cannot in good conscious tell such a lie. When The Beast consumed the eel, he did so with such a force as to tear the eel’s body clean off the barbed hook. As the dying eel fell into the blackest pit any denizen should ever have the misfortune of knowing, the hook writhed about in The Beast’s maw until the barbed point lodged itself firmly into The Beast’s bottom jaw, impaling the monster’s gums and striking his jawbone like a rattlesnake may strike a stupid ‘munkie. This pain, entirely unlike the pain of the buzz inside The Beast’s head yet just as sickeningly painful, chucked The Beast into a new state of insanity. Even monsters have their limits, and for this deranged scaly bastard that limit was not just reached but broken, shattered, set to a new height, a height which, if whatever gods watch over The Beast are willing, will never be reached again.
The moment he felt the metal hook chip his jawbone, The Beast screamed out in a way that forced The Dome to cease the broadcast of its buzzing for a short while, a few minutes or perhaps merely a few seconds, but it was long enough. With a clear head, The Beast realized this was his chance for escape, possibly the only chance he will ever get, and there is only one way out – through the spillover gap of the beavers’ dam.
Then the short while finished out. The Dome resumed its broadcast, The Beast resumed insanity, and the never-ending cycle spiraled on with the continued presence of The Beast, the pet of those beings who inhabit The Dome, in the waters of Monksville.
What was once a straight line and a foolproof plan of escape is now a tangled mess of bent and knotted wire, a psychotic weaving of The Giant’s solid metal fishing line around rocks and boulders, through great forests of sunk driftwood, under sunk corpses of fishing boats made with mismatched cuts of wood warped by overuse until leaks sprung and they were claimed by Monksville. The Beast trailed the line every which way he could, the pain of the hook blinding him while the roar of the buzz tore him further and further from the safe beaches of stable mind. When he finally finds the dam and realizes what he was made so quickly to forget, the metal line is pulled tight, the tip-up’s spool is spun out, and The Giant’s right arm is submerged up to the shoulder in the hole he drilled into the ice.
The ice which is now beginning to crack.
The Giant feels nothing from his right shoulder down to his wrist; he scrambles for purchase with his left hand on the slippery soaked icecap while his right is undoubtedly bitten by aquatic frost. There may be a mere muskellunge on the other end of this fishing wire, sure, or there may be something else, something bigger, badder, mayhap it’s the very thing which has brought so much pain and suffering to all those who frequent the world’s greatest water hole, this brilliant, beloved lake filling the valley shaped like a crescent moon. From his shoulder to his wrist The Giant’s right arm is numb, the sensation is gone like dust in the wind, but he can feel his right hand very well, yes, very well indeed; he feels the metal fishing line as it tightens its grip around his thick deerhide fishing gauntlet, the supremely well-made gauntlet, the hard leather gauntlet soaked through past the hand and straight to the bone which refuses to give out under the razor bite of the wire, the very gauntlet that bites into The Giant’s frozen flesh like the teeth of a carnivore. The frothy water beneath the fishing hole takes on a stomach-churning crimson as The Giant’s hand is crushed and maimed.
The otherworldly sound of a crack moving its way through solid ice rings in The Giant’s ears and he realizes, all at once, that his current position is not sustainable. If he doesn’t draw his arm back out of the hole not only will his catch surely escape, but he’ll be pulled into the water and doomed to drown, to be claimed by that which he so dutifully serves and protects, that which he’s stewarded over ever since he was a small giant of five cycles who had not yet been given a name.
The Giant must pivot and he must do it now, before more than just his fingers are lost, and they surely will be soon – the knuckles of his first and last fingers have just touched. The bones of his hand are beginning to splinter.
A scream of bloody murder escapes The Giant’s throat and shakes the snow off the trees from the mouth of the Wanaque River all the way down to the North Floodgate at the southern end of the Fishing Village. He loosens his left moccasin with his right foot, using the metal claws as if they were part of his body all along, and flings the shoe into the air. It lands just out of reach of his left hand and The Giant screams again, but not quite as loud; a scream fueled by rage is a terrible sound, yes, but a scream fueled by pain is a noise of an entirely different magnitude.
But that moccasin is The Giant’s only chance, he can’t possibly sling his right moccasin over his left shoulder, that would leave both feet damned to freeze like his right hand already is. The Giant reaches, pulls on the line with all his might, gets some slack, thanks the Great Spirit, and then nudges himself closer to the stray clawed moccasin. He pulls, nudges, pulls, nudges, and reaches a final time, but it’s still no good, it’s just barely out of his reach, the tip of the glove on his left middle finger scrapes against the stiff leather of the moc’ and he knows, in that moment, that he needs but one more pull, a single burst of effort. The water on the ice is soaking into his chest and pants, he feels the true wrath of winter on every inch of his body, he feels the ice cracking and sinking ever so much lower with each beat of his heart, but he has to do this. For his village, for the Tribe of the Forge, for Mother Monksville and for himself, he has to do it.
The Giant pulls the wire line one final time. Though he does not hear the crack as his right hand snaps and the bones fold together like a leaf bent in half, he feels the pain clearly, and again he screams, The Giant screams with all his might. But this is not solely a scream of pain – this is a wail of victory, for now The Giant grasps the clawed moccasin in his left hand.
With the strength of a black bear defending its cubs from the glowing eyes of a hungry puma, The Giant slams his clawed moc’ into the icecap and shatters a hole much deeper than the width of a feather. Purchase is gained; he stands up on three limbs and rips forth the fourth from the hateful grasp of the wintry Mother Monksville. With one final scream of agony, The Giant whips his right arm and frees his battered hand of the undamaged deerhide gauntlet before tilting over and falling back into the snow, leaving the imprint of a wingless angel.
The bloody wire-wrapped gauntlet flies into the hole, followed by the tip-up. At first the wooden thing, as well-crafted as the deerhide gauntlet, grabs hold of the ice with its crossbeams and struggles against the mighty force of The deranged Beast beneath the ice, but the boughs begin to bend, and they break soon after. The tip-up, flag and all, is sucked down into the hole, never to be seen again.
All at once, the battle for Monksville is decided.
The small giants hear the first scream through the walls of their cabins. The grown giants, those who have proudly carried their names for cycles innumerable, hear it over the roar of their nightly bonfire. As snow plummets from the trees, they allow themselves a moment of plausible deniability – surely the Tribe of the Forge is celebrating some new innovation in the field of metalworking, surely The Giant hasn’t had a fruitful day on that damn deaded lake.
Then they hear the second scream and confuse it for a rally cry. Three giants – Bass Watcher, Walleye Slayer, and Whitetail Breaker – rush away from the bonfire to the cabins to ensure the small giants do not wander off into the hungry darkness of winter.
When The Giant frees his pulverized right hand and unleashes his third and final scream, those three giants crest the treacherous hill and begin to follow along the shallow trench left behind by The Giant’s sled.
Suddenly the force acting against The Beast gives up its righteous fight. With nothing acting against his will The Beast rockets forward, pulling the fishing line along. At some points along his path, most specifically around the rocks, the line stays taught; the driftwood and old sunken boats, however, shatter to pieces and scatter splinters and clouds of murk. This gives The Beast just enough slack to propel himself to the dam.
The water of the splash pool does not freeze solid in the wintertime no matter how low the temperature drops; where water moves it cannot go still. As the three giants work their way through the mountainous snowdrifts, The Beast angles his swim and leaps from the Reservoir like a dipper duck with a beak full of lakebreathers and clears the spillover gap without brushing his scaly hide against the rough, beaver-chewed wood. The moment his nub of a tail leaves the waters of Monksville behind, The Dome’s buzzing vanishes from The Beast’s mind, gone as quickly as it arrived, as if it was never there at all.
Lo, but there’s still the matter of The Giant’s iron hook, the hook attached to the unbreaking metal wire wrapped tight around boulders, some thrice the size of The Beast. The breaking of the sunken wood provided enough slack to clear the dam, but not enough to clear the waterfall; as he plummets towards the open pool beneath the roaring wall of cascading water, The Beast’s head (perched atop his lengthy snake’s neck) is jerked viciously back, but his body continues to fall. The weight of his body, hidden by the dark from the sight of the giants of the Monks Tribe dancing around their nightly bonfire, gives The Beast that extra bit of pull needed to free him from his final prison – the hook rips free of The Beast’s hateful maw, stealing a tooth in the process, and The Beast lands with a mighty splash in the Wanaque Reservoir.
The fall does not phase The Beast. Neither does the landing. His head now clear of The Dome’s infernal buzz, The Beast senses the flow of the current and follows it south to the North Floodgate. It is a simple mechanism – simplicity is the ultimate complexity, as those wiser than I most definitely say – a pipe with a heavy cap, a cap to be removed if and when the water level on either side of the floodgate begins to sink to dire levels. The cap has never been removed since the floodgate was first built and now sports a growth of freshwater mussels, the makings of a supremely easy meal for The Beast. After eating his first morsel as a free denizen, The Beast does not dislodge that cap; he could do it, make no mistake, but he does not, for The Beast has been through quite an ordeal on this day, quite an ordeal indeed. He shall push that cap and swim freely on the other side, no matter how large or small that body of water may be, but first he must rest. Yes, he shall settle down and sleep soundly in the stagnant, icy water inside the pipe, just until the great shine illuminates this dark lake once more. Just until then, he shall sleep.
Just until then.
A Wingless Angel
As The Beast takes his claim of a slumber so deserved, the three giants approach the hole in the snow in the shape of a wingless angel. The snow around The Giant’s right hand is soaked thoroughly with blood, but The Giant still breathes. He breathes faint puffs of steam, but The Giant breathes nonetheless. For a moment the three giants are stunned – what on Earth could have happened up here? What could The Giant have possibly hooked in this lake where all the fish are dead?
Finally, Walleye Slayer steps forward and bends low to ask The Giant to tell his tale, to brief them on the events surrounding his mighty rally cries. In answer The Giant whispers six words, then falls deep into an unconscious slumber:
“Exodus, brethren; the cycle is broken.”
A Giant of Metal
The winter of the Battle for Monksville is not an easy one for either of the divided villages, but the giants manage to pull through. Not a single giant of either tribe sets foot on Monksville for the remainder of the season; following his legendary battle with The Beast, The Giant was brought to the Mining Village and Black Smith took him in with open arms and ready hands. The fishcatcher’s right hand was mangled beyond repair, truly ruined; when he woke up the next morning, the flesh had turned a disconcerting purple-green color and was throbbing in rhythm with his heartbeat. Only one thing could be done: The Giant’s right hand was amputated at the wrist. Black Smith, a giant of metal and meddle alike, went straight to the mines and drew enough ore to make five augers, but that mold had long been broken and would not be filled again.
Black Smith is a brilliant inventor, among many other things, so he crafted The Giant a new hand, one composed of dark metal to be fastened to his stump of a wrist, a hand perfectly shaped to tightly grip the handle of a fishing rod, whether that rod be a mighty longpole or a simple jiggin’ rig; a hand perched on a swivel so it may easily be turned during use. When it was done, all the giants of the Mining Village paraded down to the Fishing Village and the tribes came together for a supreme celebration lit by a towering bonfire which lasted all night; never since the days of the village on the river have the giants felt such a sense of unity between the two tribes of Monksville, and in the back of The Giant’s mind, the hope for future unity burns on, hotter than the blaze of the bonfire.
Just as it began, the first season of the seventh cycle since the filling of the Monksville Res’ ends with mild, balmy weather. Springtime arrives in force and the spring thaw frees the greater keep of Monksville from the remaining piles of snow and ice. The trees produce buds which burst with vibrant green leaves and the forests return to life; the flowers bloom brightly in great open pastures, the insects buzz menacingly in terrible nasty swarms, and the once sluggishly chilled waters of Monksville begin to heat and churn again.
The remaining lakebreathers of the Monksville Res’, as limited in number as they are, begin to mate, and The Spawning takes place for the first time since The Gleam opened in the stretch of water between the two isles. The landwalkers and wingflappers, though not directly aware of the coup which took place beneath the surface, notice the increased prevalence of surfaceswimmers and slowly drop their pretense about avoiding direct contact with the water. The mighty Monksville Reservoir is finally on the rebound.
The pair eagles, with their new fortress in The Crater, finally get to participate in The Hatching and produce two healthy eaglets, one boy and one girl. Much like the small giants, these small eagles will not be granted names until they are of an age where they can send them through the channel, and this is how I’ll have you remember the pair eagles. We may well hear them chirp once or twice in the upcoming seasons, but then again, we may well not; they are parents now, the pair eagles, and eaglets require quite a bit of attention. Neither Lysander nor Lysandra will be getting out much anytime soon.
But with every influx of goodness, small giants, there must be a reciprocal wave of misfortune – as Monksville enjoys its newly found splendor, a severe drought takes hold of the greater Wanaque Res’. The pocket claimed by The Giants is still full (though the giants of the Fishing Village no longer pull catch from it by default), but south of the North Floodgate the entire Reservoir has dried into an arid desert-like state. The wingflappers who have long taken roost along the shores of the Wanaque Res’ place blame on the giants’ floodgate; even though a great many of them watched the giants remove the sealing cap, water still does not flow. The gate seems to be clogged, stopped up with a great black mass which chills the water at the pipe’s mouth on the wet side.
One day, a wingflapper who swims in the water like a lakebreather decides he’s had quite enough. Dopper the dipper duck and his dozen daring divers flock over to the giant’s pocket of the Wanaque Reservoir, meaning to end the new drought once and for all. Braten the goose follows closely behind, leaving his soulbride Branda to wait back in their nest.