once upon a timeThis woman could call upon the earth and the heavens to do her bidding. But she gave up her power to be human... this Ondine was the most human human being that ever lived. She was human by choice.
That was what the banners that decorated the streets in pastel lights of soft neon had read to all those around. Luck personifies - the heir, the fated one, the one with the voice. Kishi would ask, when he had the words and mind to do so, what exactly he had said that still lit wonder in people’s eyes when they saw him. His nanny – Siornai , a woman of a bioluminescent octopus familiar, would tell him it wasn’t what he said that was special. It had been how he said. And how that had strummed and echoed through hearts like nothing else before.
Kishi had been heard. The value of that simple fact was something he learnt at a young age.
To wish to be heard, one must also know how to listen. He was sure a teacher had told him that, perhaps it had been Muirt, the wizened horseshoe crab familiar who had trained each one of his siblings and still doted the most on him at the end of the line. It was a lesson he took to heart from youth onward. Perhaps not the lesson most in his family wished him to grasp with two small hands that tried to catch too much of everything, but it had been the lesson that stuck.
Most of his youth had been spent doing just that. Which didn’t always mean he would listen to teachers, to instructors, to generals, family, scholars and more – to the annoyance of all listed. It meant he listened to all those he could.
Kishi was known for escaping castle grounds once he knew everyone was distracted and running out into the world. Knights were commissioned to keep an eye on him but his charm or his stubbornness would eventually win out and he would be out in Atalantes, with the people he was meant to somehow rule over one day. The concept had been made so distant and it felt at times foreign to him. Instead of subjects to mind, they were at times closer than family to him.
He made friends with the children of the market vendors – his favorite place to visit when out of sight of eyes of judgement and reprimand. It was the complete opposite of his still, proper household. It was a microcosm of what life really was. People there laughed and spoke and gossiped and fought and traded all with equal color, with equal love and mindfulness and regard for one another. They took care, that’s what Kishi picked up in the overlapping vibrations in all the bustle of minds and bodies that packed on tight in the streets.
Here Kishi met Truin, a whale shark familiar, the son of a street mechanic who Kishi was sure knew to repair all inventions under the ocean. It was here he understood that the power of light did not exist only in the royals as all those away from the city had once told him. It was in everyone. Not some lended strength but pure and simple and obvious. Watching Truin learn from his father, watching them be able to repair all broken light and look at a thing and understand the beat of it intrinsically always left him in awe.
Truin held some awe of his own for Kishi. As much as the adults marveled that the young heir would grace their streets without care of propriety, those his age barely understood the marvel of it all. Many sneered at the boy who had so much glory and fame for nothing but being alive. Yet just as many got to know the boy in all his lingering and what was strange and unlike anything before become wholly normal. Truin, who’s older brother was high up in the military, knew much more of the royals than most of his friends. Knew of Kishi’s family, of the way the hierarchy went and the way ruling had been established for millennia, and knew Kishi to be special.
Special, maybe, even without that. Curiosity and attention to detail were perhaps things rarely found in anyone, regardless of origin. Truin, who had always been careful and attentive to rules and commands, was suddenly caught up in Kishi’s currents. Suddenly everyday was an adventure for them both. Thanks to Kishi’s pleading, Truin would lead him through the city – meeting all his odd demands of places to be and listen and eventually join in on. Together they snuck into dance academies, homes for the elderly, town council meetings, workshops, farms, stores, studios, playgrounds, classes and so much more.
Many times other children would tag along, depending on the location and the promise of it there would be a group of them who went out to a city that held more light than anyone else seemed to care to see. It was a game to most, what strange thing they would take on and learn for a while this week. A game most of them grew out of but still questioned with fondness when they saw Kishi roaming the streets. Truin and Kishi lasted well into the dusk of their youth.
There was one kind of journey his friend hesitated to join him on – and it was all those based around activities to do with the castle. He had his brother, his family, himself to worry about, and that kind of detectable danger was far too great to take. There had been times Kishi took him to the fields, not after some great practice or with any intention but showing Truin the wonders of Atalantes that too many did not seem to have the time or want to visit and try to cherish. Kishi would listen there too, eyes closed and picking up the song of the sea, of every creature and current and anemone within. Truin never understood the placid enjoyment of empty spaces but there was food, and good company, and that was what friends were for.
It was in Kishi’s many trips that led him to the fields, during his personal recon missions into classes around the castle without a partner to help in his stealth, that Kishi met Sgaire. His familiar a navy and yellow nudibranch, which allowed him to move with such quiet ease, so easily undetectable, that Kishi who was so focused on listening elsewhere didn’t hear him at all.
The young man didn’t ask him what he was doing. Kishi already had a quiet fame for sneaking off, for trying to join in where others thought he shouldn’t or were surprised he would. Sgaire knew the young royal shouldn’t be listening in to the advanced training going on in the locked court yard below, but he didn’t feel it was his place to say anything. As much as Kishi liked to take in, to listen closely, to know everything he heard at heart – Sgaire was happy to watch him. What started as amusement went from there, trailing the other all the way out into the planes and there was suddenly no hiding. This part he hadn’t thought out.
Kishi was convinced the other was another one of his mother’s men out to get him back into the castle walls where a lecture would await him. Yet after a long moment of defending his case on why exactly he should be permitted to stay just where he was, perfectly well and fine and secure might he had, he realized Sgaire wasn’t a knight at all. He had seen the other around the castle, an apprentice in the kitchens and sometimes a server in the halls. Sgaire had never been there the times he had been allowed to join in on the dining preparations but he was there when he stood by the stairs and simply watched, taking in the bustle that had become comfort to him.
Sgaire never apologized for following him. Didn’t bow down courteous and flustered in front of the heir. There was a familiarity between them that he didn’t think to suppress at all. Instead, quiet and careful as he was, he sent a small question Kishi’s way. What did he hope to accomplish? A very different question to the simpler – what are you doing? That he often heard.
That day wasn’t spend training but instead talking to Sgaire about all he had heard up until this point, and all he wished to do with that information in a future too far away for him to know what shape it would take. It just felt important. To listen. To try to be a part of all the things he didn’t seem to understand and accept the way everyone else did. To make sure that the best in his mind would fit the minds of those around him.
This meeting would repeat itself dozens of times before they shared their first kiss too close to castle grounds for it to not be a risk but neither of them minded. Kishi had had small romances in his life, crushes and fleeting things but nothing that seemed to run as deeply and true as finding Sgaire. It was a half kept secret they both treasured in their own special way – their unlikely bond that seemed to fit just right in lives’ so incongruous to one another’s.
Truin would eventually meet Sgaire, friendships amicably made and maintained through shared explorations of Atalantes, wild wonderings and what most considered harmless mischief but was indeed a deep rooted bonding.
Things were good, for what felt like a long time, things were very good. Kishi's family wasn't looming so close to blot out all the light that was coming in through everywhere. No one in the castle whispered about how Sgaire lingered far too close to the heir. They were allowed to be, somehow. With all their careful sneaking and love under wraps, life seemed to work out. Then, like many did, Sgaire heard too much of what went through Kishi's mind. It felt like a switch, but Truin carefully reminded him the slow crawl of this coming to be and how Kishi had, for once, failed to listen.
His lover tired of him. There was no easier way of saying it. Curiosity was something too foreign to Mari-sidhe for most to be able to withstand how continuous his was. Sgaire was too quiet and withdrawn to share as much as Kishi grew to always want to know. His feelings, his thoughts, his wild speculations about things that just were and needed no questioning. Things sometimes were just what they were. People did what they did. Felt nothing about most things. The sudden disillusionment broke all romance and just like it had started, it ended.
It's in the aftermath of everything that he heard words from those around him. Gentle snides of see how it is if you don't grow out of this soon. Even if some friends presented it under a kinder disguise, the general understanding that no one wanted everything questioned was there. From everyone but Truin, who a few weeks after brought him to watch the joining of familiar's ceremony, to listen in on all these new beginnings, all this bustling curiosity of partnership. Encouragement without words.
That was the last ceremony before the war preparations began. A few months later, getting over heart break was swept aside swiftly. The waters took on different everythings. All his senses altered and listening became a thing he had to do with the whole of himself all the time. It awoke something in him that had been halfway dormant since birth. His voice. It itched at his throat, pulsed against his chest all the way to his mouth like his soul was trying to remind him that something needed saying. Something needed to be heard. And he had to figure out what it was.
atalantes mari-sidhe morgans
ruling queen family of atalantes
the mermaid who didn't just speak, but sung out.
Atalantes was built on the belief that destiny was predetermined, and that the destiny dictated them to not just survive, but thrive. And so they did. The ancient tablets spoke of the origins of things, the slow crawl to the present, the vast knowledge of what the future held. No one questioned any of it. The Mari-sidhe were people born of war, who were used to the threat of it looming overhead, hunger cavernous and eternal. They were people of peace, too, knowing that all war would be won. That's what the royalty was for, their military, their technology, their power and knowledge that went far beyond any sad society they had traded words with.
War was not to be waged between their kind. Not between the different royal families and the ruling monarchs, not between the sects that existed throughout the land, not with their lesser neighbors from above - although those who roamed slowly and swam poorly did try. War was not to be sought. War came to them, the way suffering did, and you must accept it, as a constant balance within a life as rich as theirs. War came in the shape of the Neamhchríochnaithe.
There is not much written about the Neamhchríochnaithe in the eternal library that crawled down the depths of the crystal castle. They are known as creatures of hell that rose up through the crust to test the strength of the light. A test that had been won since the beginning of time. The loss of some was simply accepted as people lost to their own darkness by some, or sacrifices to the light by others.
The light - Tintreach - is the most important aspect of all Atalantes. Their power, their strength, their life. Everything is fueled, everything moves, everything exists, everything is elevated by the very existence of it. The ancient texts speak that it is because of Tintreach that they possess all they do, from intelligence to culture to strength. All of it. And all of it thanks to the founding families of the Mari-sidhe, all of it thanks to the Morgans who are graced by the light itself and are the reason they all possess and control it the way they do.
It is known that during the night of the first moon, when there was only water that got hit by the light of the first silver orb and the millions of stars all around it, three things rose into existence in the eternal refraction of it. The glimmer of it through the water became Tintreach, the swirls of sand came together towards the light and became the first Morgans, and the shadows cast by both together became the Neamhchríochnaithe. This is when the first fight took place, on the long night of the first moon, sand and shadow fought to possess the Tintreach that floated all around them, to rule the land blessed by it, and the Morgans had won. And they would win, forevermore, as it was their right to.
Every 2350 moon cycles the battle is waged once more. For every battle won, the Mari-sidhe are rewarded in the aftermath - a new development, a breakthrough, new land conquered, new familiars discovered, a medical advancement, and countless more blessings. Some believe that the ancient texts kept in the palace dictated this very destiny down to each gifts given thanks to their sacrifice. All believe that the royal family kept their destiny safe.
As the royal family grew and the fated time of war grew ever closer, people worried over the fact that a heir had not been born. Each cycle of war was meant to be preceded by the birth of a new heir. The overseer, the last charm of good luck that was not needed but expected by the few who held fear in their hearts. Once or twice, whispers arose that one child or the next might have the gift- to control Tintreach, to control the water, to influence all life contained within, to influence all the life outside, without doubt, without fail. Some could do a few, some none, some had tried to fool them into believing they could do all. Then came Kishi, who since the start was nothing of what anyone expected.
The people rejoiced, an heir had been born. Not just a future Morgan and a final blessing. A sirdhinia had been born - who's voice was heard throughout the whole kingdom, clearer than water itself, from the very moment he was born. Not in their minds, no, in true vibrations of sound, real sound, a shockwave that called for massive celebration. The most powerful kind of heir had been born, so close to the ever encroaching battle. They would be stronger than ever, and their loss smaller than ever before.
That is what all would say. It was a blessing. A blessing of destiny, that's who he was. Fated to be a great hero, a greater ruler still, that Atalantes would be more powerful than it had ever been under his rule. His family, however, did not speak of that. They spoke of a distant future, so far away from now, that was when this would be true. They said that the ancients had spoken that he would ascend to the throne until very late in his life, that he should enjoy his simple life getting to know his people, their life, that the rest could come later. Much later.
Kishi questioned this, as he questioned many things, things no one else had ever questioned. That was the very danger of him, the very gift of him. The Morgan with a voice. The voice of the ocean, and everything within it.
Curiosity was the worst trait in a mari-sidhe. Hunger for knowledge was fine, the clarity of needing a solution, the need of advancement for the sake of something better, the crave for power to be shared by all. But curiosity for the sake of curiosity was not a thing of the light. But that was all Kishi knew how to be, curious. Curious as to why things were the way they were, worked the way they did, people acted and believed what they did without question. Curiosity was a thing that grew alongside him as all his questions were never truly answered and always smiled at with an urge of acceptance. An urge to use all that power towards something that could be more, not for himself, but for everyone.
To Kishi, there was nothing inherently selfish about curiosity. It was, in fact, rather harmless. Much more harmless than the scathing masks of politics, the curtain drawn experiments of science, the jagged edge they made of the light that came out most clearly in combat training. These were things that had to be known, whose teachers who regarded with love and admiration, but they were not what fueled him. Curiosity, his infinite regard toward everything that was and could be, now that seemed truly like something of the light. Didn't the light always seek to touch all that it could? Illuminate them to the best of their ability? And shouldn't he know best, what the light was - as the heir to it.
This is why Kishi spent most of his life in the pursuit of discovery. If the light was so total, then it should be obvious and understood by all who could see it, who could grab at it, who could feel it against their skin - not just in the hands of a family who spoke so little of so much. Most of his knowledge came from the wild stumblings of his explorations. Lingering in places once his own lessons had ended, hidden from teachers in a game that used to include many and slowly he was left to himself in these moments of discovery. He would swim further out than he should, and finding a fields to practice until the only light around him was Immraman glowing a way back home for him. Practice speech, practice song, dance, control, combat, grasping of the light that would dance around him like no other.
The war was looming, that much was certain as each moon waxed and waned overhead, each a coin they all confidently bet towards their victory. This would be the first war of many, and as always, a war like no other. In all their preparations, the steady eyes usually kept on Kishi and all his wild wonderings lost focus and eventually all but disappeared. With liberty came discovery like no other. Kishi glided down the halls of the castle like they were truly his own, looking in every room, inspecting every element somehow foreign to him despite all his living there. With no people to speak to, with no conversations to look over, with the streets a bustle of all the same movements, Kishi searched for the truths of the people who had existed within the walls long before himself. Their ghost could still so easily remain in all the details so easily overlooked within each chamber.
He spent exactly 17 sleeps in the library, finally able to read through the tablets previously guarded from his reach by his brother and the other keepers. It was in one of the passages so far from the crystal walls of the palace that cobblestones of light were left to guide a path back but not onwards that Kishi found the first thing to have ever truly satisfied his curiosity. A real truth. A text etched in something so ancient he could barely understand, that spoke of light trapped and locked and the dangers and fear of it being released, of it leaving them forever and their sure demise to follow.
There were few sleeps after that, just small lapses of dreams all filled with a truth that vanished as soon as he wakened. It fueled him, more than the food Immaraman left his side to find every so often, more than the dangers of war that echoed outside of the chambers, growing more and more quiet the further he went. Kishi wasn't sure just how deep he was until he was at the full depth of it all. The chill stagnation of the water told him he must be deep underground, must be at the very heart of the castle, so far away from the light and the life. It is there he found everything.
It is not written on any tablet, not etched on any leaf that has been worn and molten despite the effort of preservation. It is all written on the walls. In the perfect depths of the castle, in it's cold, beatless heart, everything was written. A language so ancient, so raw and unweathered by time that Kishi shouldn't have understood it but for the first time in his life, he understood with the clarity only sound could afford. He could feel the words vibrating in his chest, not spilling out for just himself to hear but digging through all the lies to reach towards somewhere more honest than this.
On the walls he read of the same night he had heard of as a child before bed, had grown up to hear during festivals of the light, during meetings of the familiar, during preparations of war. The night of the first moon. The elements were all the same - the light, the sand, the shadow. The light gave life to them both, gave knowledge, gave power to them equally. The shadow would rule when the sky was moonless, but would get the direct source of the original light. It would have a home of infinite caverns, with animals whose hearts beat with light itself. And they would be able to fight, all hammer and drum and blunt force trauma. The sand was given the prairies of sand under the moon and the stars, their power swift blade, all edge and as cunning as their boundless intelligence.
Yet both hungered for what the other had. So they fought, just had he had known them to, but not against each other. No. They fought against the light.
The fight sang itself endless in the walls, spun around him like a rope meant to entrap and cut into him to rupture. Kishi saw his way out of the words, out of the tears they invoked and the tragedy that split all the good he had known all his life cleanly in two. Each side used their half to rip the world created in two - mirrors to one another, one suited for the shadow, one suited for the sand. In their worlds they could have everything they wanted, rule as they pleased, not share anything between them. In order to do that the light had to be trapped, in bonds built out of parts of the two of them - scales and tendons, joined together to form a cage that would turn brittle with every cycle of the moon.
At the 180th complete cycle, the bonds would nearly rupture, light finding a way through the way light always could. This called for further sacrifice to be made, bonds could once again be made from the bloodshed. With every renewal of the cage, they would take more from the pure light itself and build their kingdom further up from this bed of chaos. The war was an orchestrated affair. Beyond the unknowing sacrifice of the dispensable foot soldiers, there were agreements made between the Morgans and the Neamhchríochnaithe. Certain royals would die in order to fortify the bonds with their scales that held their stolen powers. There would also be monsters who were destined to die at the hands of royals, just as he had heard countless stories of throughout his youth.
In these willful sacrifices, a trade off occurs. For the price of too many souls, a few bodies used for scraps, fragments of light are traded between those who pull the strings. It had not been destiny that kept their prosperous land wealthy in every way, that made them seem the victors and had them forever reap the benefits of catastrophe unlike any before. It had all been written in blood and ignorance.
Just as his world dimmed, an eclipse that in the moment he thought would last a life time, light found its way through. Immraman glowed past the darkness left behind, made rainbows out of tears that fell crystal droplets quickly dissolved into glimmering mist. The small being hummed light into the room once more, reminding him an eclipse always means the darkness before the renewal of light. His eyes open to witness the words unfurling to continue, to reveal themselves to him in a song that built up inside his chest, that beat stronger and more sure than his wondering heart of curiosity had ever gotten to.
The walls sang in choir of a being truly born of light. A future Morgan who was unlike all those before. A Morgan who carried the same potential for light the first being had once held. Everything shined with the chant that it was him, the scales on his tail shifting to golden as his hair moved in luminous flumes through the current that suddenly warmed around him. All along his difference had been for a reason, not some charming silly quirk that set him aside from so many. His potential hadn't been the construction of an overeager mind, or a thing of tales for a future so distant it felt like it belonged to someone else entirely. It was there, in his hands at that moment, they could bring the true freedom of the light, could bring together all that had been kept apart for so long. With help, of course.
None of this could be done alone. The wave crashed as surely as it had swollen, leaving the whisper of a shore still confident in its careful tenderness. It spoke of obligation now. To sing through this beating he held in his chest, this truth, this light, that no one could take from him. That beyond this world there was a warrior, a man who could be all that needed being, who would bring all the power that needed to be and together they would restore the balance. That together, his light could feed the warrior's power and this world would be given the chance to start anew. As one - light, sand and shadow, peacefully united.
Kishi did not think to question the command. His eyes closed and the thought of worlds beyond on this one, of light beyond the light, of warrior whose soul must weigh an equal measure to his own. It is then he sees eyes as kind as horizons, a body similar to those who live above but it is merely an outline that held something inconceivably boundless within.
For the first time in his life, Kishi sang without fear of being heard. He would sing for days, even after emerging from the depths of the truth no longer hidden. After a day of depressing observations of a society willing to march to a war fueled on corrupt ignorance, he would swim to the surface of the water when the stars had aligned to their brightest and stare up at the clusters, waiting for the cue of the moon - and he would sing. Each time, he felt more heard, felt the connection growing more sure as everything beneath crumbled further.
The moon was full when Kishi knew the other had not just heard him, but listened. Everything around him felt silver for a moment, the surface of the ocean no longer a dark glimmer of faint home but a mirror to the skies that went on forever. His hands reached out towards the skies before him, like he could almost touch the man he had spent so long calling for but the distance still remained. The connection had been made, and now came a portal.
The walls, the beat of his heart, the moon in the sky, none of it had any way of knowing that clouds would be drawn over a sky such as this. As easily as it had happened, it was taken from him. The war had begun, and with the clash of bloodshed came the dimming of light. So much of it was used only for death, for its own destruction. Kishi still tried to travel the distance, to find a surface that didn't rock with the horrors beneath, horrors he had no control over. But his song only came out once more, enough to tell his worthy traveler that the light was quickly dimming, faster than he could sing, all channels were bloodied currents but he was doing all he could be.