Tales of the Ailendar, Volume 2: Flow of the Deep – Part 1

Dolanon woke before sunrise to the feel of moisture in the air. Grinning with childlike excitement, he crept into Melyna’s room and gently shook her shoulder. The elderly queferi woman made a drowsy sound and turned in his direction. “A storm’s coming, Grandma,” he whispered with barely suppressed glee.

Melyna wasn’t truly his grandmother—how could she be, when she was queferi and he was sohntar—but many of the village children called her that because she was so kind and wise. She and her small family shared the hut with Dolanon and his mother, and he held that to be a stronger claim than most to call her Grandma.

She smiled sleepily and patted his cheek, which was already damp from the growing humidity. “Thank you for the warning, child. Bring in the basket by the front door before you go?”

Dolanon flowed out of the room, his strides delicate so as to not disturb her sleep further. He snatched up the basket and paused to look at the swollen, purple sky. Sticking out his tongue to better taste the air, he savored the coolness of mineral-rich water intermingled with the constant tang of the sea. These clouds had traveled a long way over unfamiliar lands before reaching the island, and the flavor of their bounty was exceptional and interesting. He deposited the basket inside, shut the door behind him and raced through the grassy streets of the village.

Many sohntar adults had already gathered just beyond the village walls, their faces turned into the wind with expectant looks. Dolanon found his mother and threw his arms around her slender frame, laughter bubbling from his lips as he gazed at the swaying treetops. Her arm slipped around his shoulders, her hand finding his bare arm past the fabric of his shirt, and the surface of her skin merged with his. The intermingling touch suffused him with a feeling of safety, love and unity. “Are you ready, my darling?” she asked, a thrill of anticipation entering her voice.

“Uh-huh!” Dolanon exclaimed, and let go of his mother to stretch his arms above his head. “I can feel the rain coming. It’s almost here!”

“This is one of the largest storms the island has seen in seasons. Brace yourself.”

Dolanon felt the current of air relax and the speeding storm clouds stall. “Oh, hurry up now!” he scolded, and jumped up and down with impatience. “I’m ready for you! I’m ready—”

The wind gusted, filling his ears with howling, and the rain surged behind it. Dolanon squealed with pure delight at the thousands of cool drops spattering him, soaking into him, their taste tinting his substance. He heard whoops and cries of joy from the other youths and some of the more enthusiastic adults. His mother released a long peal of laughter that was nearly swallowed by the growing deluge. It was like standing at the base of a waterfall. The torrents pounded Dolanon, trying to dissolve his form, flatten it to the ground.

“Hold yourself firm, darling!” his mother yelled. “Draw as much of the rain into yourself as you can, then let it drain from you into the canals!”

That’s right… the sohntar didn’t just do this for pleasure. They did it to protect the village, and the lives of their queferi brethren.

Dolanon stood tall beneath the smashing rainfall and gripped his form as tightly in his mind as he could. It would have been easier to harden his body to ice, but that wouldn’t soak up the water. His churning skin drank in the raindrops, and his figure swelled to nearly double its normal size, but he couldn’t hold it all in. He had to release it. Concentrating on his bare feet, he channeled the excess water through his toes and sent it cascading down the sloping ground, where it fed into the canals dug around the village. His awareness wanted to follow it, but he clenched his jaws against the temptation and remained focused.

It was a balancing act, he realized. He needed to soak in as much water as his body could hold while maintaining his form, and release it without flowing away. The rainfall was inconstant. The clouds possessed streams of their own, guided by the flow of warmer or cooler air in the sky, or the currents of the sea. Salt and brine, stone and metal, the water carried pieces of them all. His body touched the tide, helped shape it, but he was too small to ever hope to control it.

His mother and his people stood with him, but even all together, they couldn’t control it. They didn’t try. All they needed to do was redirect the currents. The balance would take care of itself, because the water was a part of them. A part of the island, a part of the Kingdom of the Mists and all its inhabitants.

The storm raged on. Dolanon let the winds rip around him, bending as needed with their movements, but never falling. He welcomed the inrush of new water and found his form gelling without his notice. He savored the tastes of unknown places… and then released them onto the ground. The voices around him had grown quiet as they found their own place in the balance, just like him.

Pale light streamed over Dolanon’s face. He opened his eyes, wondering for a moment just when he’d closed them, and saw a rent in the storm clouds. A shaft of sunlight speared through and fell on the upturned faces of the water sohntar. The rain dwindled to a shower, then a dribble, and finally dispersed altogether under the full light of late morning.

The surface of Dolanon’s skin rippled, swallowing the last of the raindrops. His mother ran her fingers through her translucent hair with a wide, satisfied grin. The other adults smiled at one another and clasped hands together in shared celebration. Dolanon received his fair share of congratulations before his mother pulled him into an engulfing hug. “I’m so proud of you, darling,” she murmured in his ear.

“I did well, didn’t I?” he laughed.

“Very, very well.”

Cheers from the village at his back reached his ears. He turned and saw queferi standing in the doorways of huts and houses. They clapped and beamed at the sohntar that had sheltered the village from the worst of the storm and the flood that could have followed. Dolanon followed his people back through the arch, waving to the crowd and grinning.


The high sun quickly dried the huts and grassy pathways, leaving a fresh, clean scent lingering in the air. Still coasting on his successful stand against the storm, he begged leave from his chores to go down to the shore and practice his form-shifting. “The waves will be rough now anyway,” he wheedled, casting hopeful glances between his mother and Melyna. “I can keep an eye on the beach and make sure the little ones stay out of the water.”

Melyna chortled and patted his shoulder with her knobby fingers. “Listen to this one!” she told his mother fondly. “He rides a single storm and now he fancies himself fully grown. Little ones, indeed.”

“Even queferi younglings know to stay away from the beach after a storm, Dolanon,” his mother said in her most reasonable tone. “I’m sure your guardianship won’t be necessary.”

Dolanon clasped his hands in front of his face and gazed up at her imploringly. His pride in himself wasn’t yet so full that he wouldn’t resort to tugging on heartstrings. “Please, mama?”

She rolled her eyes heavenward before spinning him around and swatting him playfully on the rear. “Oh, get out of here, you little eel! And bring back some mussels with you, if you’re going to be there all day!” she called after him as he gushed from the house.

He poured across the grass like a rushing stream. Other sohntar waved, and a few queferi children tried to chase him and jump over the slender flow of his body, but he quickly left them behind as he raced from the village. He was so focused on speed that by the time he reached the pounding shore, he’d picked up a number of leaves and grass clumps and spent several minutes spitting them out in distaste. The wind still blustered, and the waves thundering onto the sand were capped with white foam that sprayed across the ocean’s surface. Dolanon dashed into the chilly water and dove under an incoming wave.

Surrounded by the sea, he let his normal form melt into the semblance of a small dolphin, his current favorite. He loved the speed and grace its dynamic body offered, as well as its ability to jump. Releasing a burbling laugh, he skimmed the underside of the water and pumped his tail. His body leapt a few feet from the choppy ocean, arced through the air and plunged back down. Again and again he jumped until he was a fair distance from the island but still within the absolute boundary of the mists. He dove once more and swam through the water toward the cloudy barrier sitting on the surface. He rolled onto his back to watch the thick wall pass by, then turned a flipper and plunged into the deep.