When I was eight years old, I went to the gates of the gob quarters and looked into the woods. There was a wind rising, whipping the leaves on the trees, and I heard the growling of naghras nearby. If I had dared to set foot outside our quarters they would have found me in minutes. We all knew this. We had seen it happen. No one had tried it in years. We never left our quarters at night, and our masters never came near us.
But that night, we all left.
The wind rose, and I was just about to return to my family’s hut. Then I saw - I don’t know how to put it exactly - a sort of window opened in the air right in front of me. A kind of displacement. The trees all shifted a few feet to the right, and rain came dripping out of mid-air. To the left and right, above and below, normal trees. But in that one spot, trees shifted and rain dripping over the lip of some invisible windowsill.
A human came twisting sideways through the window, jumping to the ground like a thief. He was wet. The rain had soaked him to the bone. He had snake tattoos from his arms to his fingertips. Do you know what that means? I didn’t know at the time. I was a slave. The laws were different for us. If one of us was caught stealing a loaf of bread he was fed to the naghras. You can’t imagine that.
He looked at me and shook his hair like a wild thing. He had very long hair. Raindrops scattered everywhere.
He spoke. One word. It was a name.
A sea-goblin name. My name, sort of. It was what my name would have been if I had been born free. It had never been spoken by human lips before that night.
I was too frightened and bespelled to say anything. I thought he was a ghost, or some kind of evil thing. Maybe he was at that, but he was beautiful.
“Watch this,” he told me, and he spun around on the toes of one foot. A pirouette, is that the word?
He raised his arms while he spun, and instantly the wind grew stronger. After a few seconds, it was strong enough to pull me towards him. A little later, the trees were whipping harder than ever, and I could hear branches creaking. I stepped back.
He moved his hand, holding it up like he was showing off a choice piece of fruit or something. His eyes were closed. The wind - moved. Part of the palisade around the fuzzy quarters blew away, logs made from whole bannis trees flying away like dandelion fluff. The roof of the nearest hut pulled off its frame. The family had been sleeping. They ran away.
Another hut blew apart. The man made a fist of his other hand, eyes still closed, and the sky opened up. Rain hit the ground in a sheet. A second later, there was mud everywhere.
Lightning flashed, again and again. Over and over again, my ears were ringing a week afterwards. The wind was still moving around, and huts were flying into pieces. One hole, then another, opened up in the palisade. When the second hole appeared, I could see the human house through it. It was burning. Even as I watched, a whole series of lightning strikes hit it, igniting another wing. Humans were running everywhichway.
I didn’t know what to do. Suddenly a goblin named Dogear picked me up at a run. Her husband was running right behind her.
“Will he want blood?” Dogear’s husband Jewel asked.
“Our blood?” Dogear shook her head. “Let’s hope not. We’ve paid enough.”
“Who was he?” I asked them.
“The answer to our prayers. The Opener of the Way.”
Dogear snarled. “You’ve been living with humans too long, whelp. It’s all spirits. Everything you see is a spirit.”
Jewel spoke more gently than his wife. “He was born here. He doesn’t know.”
She grunted. “Have to learn now, whelp. We’re free now.”
“We’re still in Master’s territory,” I pointed out.
“True. But we’re leaving. Anyway, I don’t think the Master will be complaining. He sees spirits now, just like us.”
“He doesn’t know what you mean,” Jewel repeated. “He doesn’t see them.”
But I never did.
You know about the spirit vision of sea goblins, of course. No? I don’t understand that. A priest should know about these things.
As for me, I can’t see the paths or the spirits, to the everlasting disappointment of my adopted parents, but I can sometimes hear what people think. I don’t know how that works, either. I just can. Not all the time. I’d have been insane by now if it was all the time. Just a thought here and there, coming to me like when you’re at a dance and a hundred people are talking and you just catch bits and pieces of thirty conversations at once. Mostly it’s just annoying.
And earlier tonight, when I told my prisoner about the Opener of the Way, his first thought was, “one of us? Or a god?”
They can do these things, you see. They have magic. I don’t know who they are yet, but they can do amazing things. And they’re using their talents to kill us. They brought the Scourge. I don’t know why yet. I don’t know anything yet, except that interesting times have come to Sattribha.
Gobs getting killed in their homes by this Scourge. People materializing out of thin air. Humans talking about some kind of Cleansing. I don’t know how it all adds up.
But I’m going to stop it.