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Rain and Monsters [story]

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[To consume time until next week, for the next several days I'll be posting stories previously written two years ago on Kannadi's Lodestone blog. 1572 was certainly a busy year for her.]



Rain dropped into the fountain of the Gold Court, plinking and splishing from far above. Accompanying the sounds was a rapid tapping which couldn’t have had less to do with water.


“It's their basements,” the Hellsguard said somewhere near the taps. “Flooded, from all the rain.”


Kannadi focused on her hammer, chipping imperfections off a rock at the edge of the upper Gold Court. “How deep?” She asked between bouts of tapping.


Tree-trunk arms crossed behind a broad back. “On up to the door, last I heard.”


“I distinctly remember,” tap tap tap, “having warned them against precisely this event.” Tap tap tap. “One rudimentary pump could've prevented this.” Tap tap.


“They don't much like intervention, Miss.”


Kannadi moved her rock to her grinding stone. “There's that Phrontistery woman, Catriona.”


“That's different. She helps the refugees, she's no tinterested in capitalizing on them.”


Grind, grind.


“The matriarch is not interested either,” the towering roegadyn continued.


“I didn't say she was.” Grind. “And yet it's you who tells me this, Mister Rubali. You, of all her employees.” Grind, grind. “What other assumption am I to make but that Grandmother wishes to expand her influence to the helpless?”


Khal Rubali took off his darkened glasses. His hair, beard, and eyes were shades of yellow, practically radiant next to his dark red skin. He only looked more threatening in such a proper doublet. The intimidating effect of his presence was lessened somewhat by the surfacing of his street dialect, normally kept under by his shades.


“You could ass-sume, Miss, that your grandmama just wants to keep friendly with the 'fujis. You could ass-sume she'saskin' a thing of you 'cause you got a habit'a helpin' them now and then. You could ass-sume this's got not a bloody thing to do with business, but's so up your alley it's got a storefront, like. An' you could ass-sume your grandmama knows enough not to trust it to some git what might get eaten.”


With a final grind, Kannadi held a fresh heliodor to the light. It sparkled.


“Go on,” she said.


- - -


It rained all over Thanalan. Thankfully Kannadi's hat was practically an awning.


There was no airship service, for fear of the Garleans. Chocobo rentals had been halted for half a year. Caravan service had shrunk to once weekly, and wouldn't go as far as Little Ala Mihgo in the first place. So she walked.


Little Ala Mhigo, the hamlet of refugees. Those without luck or interest in Ul'dah ultimately moved there, for where else could they go? The naturally hollowed rock formations of Halatali linked to the vast cave system just underground, where shelter, water, and safely edible moles could be found in abundance. And so the lingering scraps of the fallen polis moved in and settled.


Kannadi sought them out now and then. Their intimate knowledge of local monsters proved invaluable in her research. She paid for the knowledge (and any interesting samples they gathered) in the detritus of a thousand guildleve targets, none of which she needed but all of which the refugees could use.


Her grandmother often attempted to wedge herself into the exchanges; on rare occasions, Kannadi allowed it. Today, for instance. She was to be an emissary, of sorts....


The wind shifted from the south and the rain went nearly horizontal. Kannadi hurried to an outcrop and crouched in its shadow, letting the rain blast around her. The road was a river, surging from the canyon pass.


Kannadi squinted. A cactuar flailed jerkily in the current.


She began undoing her boots.


So much rain in such an arid region meant flash floods. With no outlet to the sea but high inclines to steep cliffs, all that water had to go somewhere. And Kannadi knew exactly where. The tunnels under her feet were likely torrents. Subterranean caves were becoming new aquifers.


Mr. Rubali had said Little Ala Mhigo was set to become one. Water had burst through the lowermost gate and risen to overtake the storehouses. Most of the perishable material had been moved, but there was still so much rotted food and waterlogged material remaining.


It seemed that men who went in after it were turning up dead. And eaten.


There was a monster down there. One they couldn't reach. They needed an expert.


The wind let up, but the rain didn't. Kannadi stuck her boots under her arms, hiked up her robe and waded into the flood.


- - -


It stopped raining just as she approached Little Ala Mhigo. Of course.


Her boots squelched as she walked in. She wiped her ice brand on a sleeve. A man approached, dressed in a dalmatica and coif.


“Good afternoon, Mister Jalani,” Kannadi said.


“Just Grifiud is fine, Miss Albedo,” he nodded. “This way.”


Kannadi dripped after her guide through the weathered-out crags of the hamlet. Tents stood wherever space was ample enough. Carpets hung across the narrow crack-passages in the rock, intended to provide some measure of shade when the sun was at its peak. They sagged and dripped.


The guide and guest passed the hamlet’s natural water pool -- in that they sloshed through the shallower edge. The pool had swollen such that nearby tents were sandbagged for self-defense.


“Madam Albedo claimed you would assist as a goodwill gesture,” Grifiud said.


“You seem skeptical,” said Kannadi.


“Of the Silver Giant? Why ever would I be?”


“It is entirely goodwill,” Kannadi said flatly. “Catchless, stringless. What are the facts?” 


Grifiud led her into another narrow path through the rock walls. More carpets sagged wetly above. “Three dead, one body recovered,” he said. “All in the basements -- or rather the one basement we have left. There is something down there.”


“What were the conditions of the four?”




“Well yes, but how?”


“If I knew, I would say.”


“Did you inspect for stings?”


“There was no sting. The bodies were broken, brutally. And eaten, partially.”


Kannadi adjusted her hat. “Crabs, perhaps. Some live in the aquifers. Rising waters connect more tunnels, expanding their range. Things we might never see are now as close to our daily ranges as marmots.”


Grifiud reached into a pocket. “And crabs have teeth like this?”


It was undeniably a fang, curved and long as his hand. A bit of dried purple material still stuck to the root.


Kannadi blinked.


“No, on the whole crabs do not have teeth.”


“This was found in my cousin's chest.”


“I'm sorry.”


Grifiud pocketed the fang and moved on. The third portion of Little Ala Mhigo was two-tiered. Water dripped from the edges of the top to join a trickle leading to the basement door.


“He went to check on two others,” Grifiud said. “I went to check on him. There was a shape over him, but it withdrew when it saw my lantern. It pulled away too fast, it seems.”


“Could you tell anything about that shape?”


“It had a long tail, that much I saw. Perhaps you could see it too.”


They were at the door. Kannadi stared at it.


“Might I have a lantern?”


“You’ll need one. I'm going to close the door after you go in.”


“I appreciate it,” Kannadi lied.


- - -


It was wet, but Kannadi kept her boots on. She paused at the stairs.


The lantern was little comfort. The door had led to a short tunnel, down into the flooded cave. Crates floated. Food floated. The floor, Kannadi knew, was slanted slightly. Somewhere underwater on the far side of the room was an open door, she also knew. She tried not to imagine eyes peeking around it.


Kannadi placed the lantern on the lowermost dry step, drew her ice brand and dipped the pointed tip. She pulled it back up and licked it. No salt. So the mystery monster wasn't a transplant from the ocean.


Stingless, strong, aquatic, and with a tail. And teeth.


“Angler, perhaps. But they're too small...”


Kannadi waded in. Ripples bumped the floating debris.


Monsters had been changing lately, she mused. Not only in size, as noticed by guards as far afield as Riversmeet, but in fundamental shifts of behavior. Marked rises in intelligence. Aggression. Would it not be possible for a monster to mutate, say?


Kannadi speared a floating zucchini with her brand. It showed no signs of nibbling. Probably a carnivore, then, whatever the culprit was. She flung the vegetable aside and heard a soft crash-tinkle.


She waded toward the sound to see what she broke. It was an open box, stacked on another one underwater. Crystals lay inside, disturbed by the vegetable assault.


Kannadi stared. She plucked up one of the crystals, waded back to the stairs and held it to the lamp.


The crystal was gray and dull.


“Deaspected,” Kannadi said aloud.


“Darkness descendeth,” said a man's voice behind her.


Kannadi put the crystal down. She rested her hand on her brand, but didn't turn.


“Hear my words if you are in search of truth….”


That made her turn. A Duskwight elezen in a white and black cowl stood on the water's surface, over the deepest point. Kannadi gripped the blue orb of her brand.


“Shall I assume you are a ghost?” Kannadi asked, utterly casual. “You could make a woman freeze on the spot, sir.”


The elezen stood perfectly still on the water. “Ne'er till land consumes sun can sea bear moons. Heavens spew crimson flame, hells seep black dooms. The senary sun yields the septenary moon -- expelling the Astral, beckoning the Umbral. So saith the eternal wisdom of Mezaya Thousand Eyes.”


“Well, good for her.”


“Open thine eyes, ye seeker of truth! Stand and bear witness to the path that must be trod!”


Kannadi lowered her eyebrows. “And what precisely–”


Something took her underwater by the ankles. The grab and pull were instant.


A long arm coiled around her knees. Kannadi's hand flew to her weapon, but her voice escaped her in a geyser of bubbles as a third arm gripped her waist. She grasped at the arm and it felt like leather over wood. It tightened further and squoze out the rest of her breath.


Under the water was dark on dark, but Kannadi's acuity of terror used what light there was. Arms drew her in. Teeth flashed. A mouth opened.


Kannadi’s mind raced. Too fast. Too fast….


And half the room froze solid.


Rock sheared off the walls from the force of expansion. Lamplight sparkled off the ice.


Kannadi burst up for breath and threw her arms atop the ice. Her legs screamed. Her lungs wanted to, but the breath caught in her throat. The ice was clear as glass, and she could see her attacker.


It was purple -- rich, royal purple. Tentacles reached every which way. And somewhere down there -- yes, teeth. A carnivorous grin of them, frozen in place.


Kannadi stabbed her brand into the tentacles around her legs. They slackened. Kannadi kicked herself away.


She shivered violently. Her breath hung in the air.


The elezen was nowhere to be seen.


Kannadi's hat floated. She picked it up by the plume and stuck it under her arm.


- - -


“Sudden visitors where they oughtn't be were not unexpected,” Kannadi said later over tea. “For all I knew, the culprit was a sahagin.”


“I see,” said her grandmother.


“The elezen's presence had given me a target. His words had filled the delayed reaction. And my Freeze spell hit the very spot where he stood. That the spot was filled with a different body was of no consequence to the spell.”


“Good that you've kept up your magic, then.” Karen Albedo sipped her tea. She was a thick, gray-haired, severe yet refined woman of seventy-nine, still over six fulms tall after the shrinking of age. “But are you certain there was a flesh-and-blood body to be targeted?”


“Not entirely,” Kannadi said. “That spectre has evidently been seen all over Eorzea. Another portent, surely.”


Karen bit into a scone. “Mm. And the creature?”


“It was an orthrid.”


Karen coughed explosively and took a gulp of tea.


“More tea, Mr. Rubali?” Kannadi called sweetly.


Rubali stepped into the sitting room with a tea kettle and filled his employer's cup first.


Kannadi laced her fingers. “You were right to send me, Grandmother. I wouldn't have recognized it if I hadn't seen the arrangement of its teeth myself. The reconstruction in Father's museum is entirely the wrong color.”


Rubali departed silently with the teapot. Karen flushed down the errant bit of scone with another gulp of tea. “Are you certain?” She said at length.


“Positive, Grandmother. Mister Jalani and his men chipped and chopped the corpse out and burned it, but not before giving me the jaws and two of the tentacles -- symbols of good faith, of course.”


“I imagine they’re worth millions.”


“Possibly. Father's at the Phrontistery by now, asking how best to preserve them.”


“Do you suppose there are more of those beasts about?”


“I haven't a clue. Prehistoric cave octopi are, by virtue of alleged extinction, difficult to find.”


“Could there be a population somewhere in the aquifers?” Karen rubbed her chin with thumb and forefinger. “Or do you suppose...?”


Kannadi placed the deaspected crystal by her teacup.


“The aether in such crystals as these has been drained,” she said. “But to where has it gone? I believe the aether of the land is somehow leaking from its former housings and finding its way into lesser beings. Changing them. But that is mostly conjecture at this point.”


Karen took a tiny silver spoon from a sugar bowl and prodded the crystal with it. “Quite. If you ask me, the more pressing question is, why has it gone? Is it a natural phenomenon? A symptom ofthe procession of ages? Is there some intelligence directing it? What do you suppose could be happening, Kanna dear?”


Kannadi allowed her grandmother the nickname. She took back the crystal and stuck it in a robe pocket.


“That, Grandmother, is a question for adventurers.”


“But one which affects ordinary people.”


Kannadi stood. “Well then. Being of both groups, I shall pursue it. If you'll kindly excuse me....”


- - -


The rain resumed once Kannadi lost sight of the Silver Bazaar. Of course.


Her grandmother spent most of her time there, away from the bustle of Ul'dah. She always claimed it helped her see the world better, as the best places to stand a telescope are away from city lights. “But only,” Karen once said, “with distant mirrors such as you showing me the world.”


If I’m so important, Kannadi thought, you could have sprung for a chocobo.


Kannadi sloshed through an ankle-high surge in the canyon road back to Ul’dah when a peal of thunder rolled. She looked toward its source and caught sight of a hooded figure atop the canyon wall. She blinked once and the figure vanished.


Kannadi tilted her hat back down and moved on.


And the rain faded to grim silence, draining away all sounds but the squelch of her boots.

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