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Tales the Dahan Tell

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Some nights, when the only light is from the torches and the stars and Sharp Fangs Behind the Leaves is out hunting in the jungles nearby or Shroud of Silent Mist is creeping in from the water or perhaps Shadows Flicker Like Flame is glimpsed in the darkness, the Dahan draw in to one home in the center of a village and tell tales the night through. Some villages claim that the Spirits enjoy the tales and will be appeased by them, allowing no harm to come to the village that night. Some villages claim the tales will attract the Bringer of Dreams and Nightmares who will watch over them. Some villages merely claim that the tales keep the people awake in turns, to watch over themselves. Whatever the reason, the tale-spinners, like spirit-speakers, have their own traditions and they keep them well, passing story after story after story down to be told and shift and change.

"Will you hear me tonight?" the tale-spinner asks her people as the sun sets behind the distant mountains. "Will you listen and remember?"

The children seated in their parents' laps all nod and the adults murmur their agreement. The people settle in to listen as they see to tasks they could carry. They weave and stitch or carve and whittle. They shell beans and set them in baskets to dry. All eyes may not be on the tale-spinner, seated in the middle of the room, but all ears are listening. All hearts are open to the stories of the island.

"What tale will you hear?" the tale-spinner asks. She looks around at her people and the people consider well.

"Thunderspeaker!" a voice calls out from the back of the room.

"Ah, I see," she says. "Then I will tell you this tale. I will tell you of Thunderspeaker, the child of the lightning, once trapped, once freed. I will tell you the tale of how it was tricked by the Stalker of Hidden Secrets and how it thanked us for its freedom."

"Long ago, before my mother's mother's mother's mother's mother was born, two Spirits could be found whenever storms split the sky. Lightning's Swift Strike could be seen in an instant, lighting the whole island before disappearing, only to appear again somewhere else. It would bring fire to the jungles and glass to the deserts. And everywhere it went, its child, Bright Thunder Roars, would follow. They would play, as only Spirits can, dancing through the sky, flashing, then roaring, echoing for all to hear. And for a very long time this was enough."

The Dahan all knew that for some of the Spirits, nothing was ever quite enough. Even with skilled spirit-speakers they might lose people to Ocean's Hungry Grasp. A Spread of Rampant Green had to be kept at bay every morning or it would overtake the village. There was no cruelty there, it was simply in their natures in the same way that it was in the nature of Volcano Looming High to erupt. The Spirits were what they were. Except for Thunderspeaker, who had once been something else.

"One day, so it was told to me, when Bright Thunder Roars was echoing through the valleys and across the plains, another Spirit came to it, a Spirit not of the plains, not of the valleys, not of the trees or beasts or streams. A Spirit of whispers and watching. A Spirit of mysteries, whose needs we still know little of. Stalker of Hidden Secrets is what my mother and her mother and her mother before her called it. A Spirit that will slip through the cracks around your door and follow you down the secret paths. A Spirit that listens and knows things."

This was the point in the tale when children who had shirked their chores squirmed with nerves and their parents assured them that the Stalker of Hidden Secrets was not concerned with such things. The tale-spinner pauses for the moments that takes, then continues.

"The Stalker of Hidden Secrets came to Bright Thunder Roars and followed. It followed through the valleys and across the plains and finally it spoke. It whispered and the thunder roared and it listened more and then it told Bright Thunder Roars all sorts of things. It spoke of things it knew. Things it had heard. It told Bright Thunder Roars that it knew the thunder was tired of following always. Of forever being behind the lightning, never ahead. It told Bright Thunder Roars that it knew a secret way to become more powerful, to grow and grow until the thunder would echo first across the land, followed by a lightning strike, the way we hear a herd of beasts and feel the earth shake before we see them stampede towards us."

The tale-spinner pauses again as the villagers seated in chairs and on benches stomp their feet and those on the floor with their hands free pound their fists to make the sound of the stampede. The tale-spinner lets the sound grow, then speaks once more, her voice carrying over the sound until it dies.

"Now, Spirits, they are powerful. We all know this. To say otherwise would be a lie. We have seen Downpour Drenches the World flood our villages. We have felt Heart of the Wildfire's warmth turn to a blaze if we do not tend to it. We know well the power of Spirits. But still, the Spirits can be tricked. They do not all know a lie when they hear one, and Bright Thunder Roars knew more of speaking than of listening and it believed the Stalker of Hidden Secrets and it followed.

The Stalker of Hidden Secrets knew the island well. And still it knows it well and you would all be wise to heed my words for it is still among us, listening. The Stalker of Hidden Secrets led Bright Thunder Roars over the mountains and through the jungles and the rocks and trees shook with their passing. They traveled the whole of the island and everywhere the sound rang across the land the people thought that doom had come to them, and then it stopped. The Stalker of Hidden Secrets knew the secrets of the island. It knew of a canyon with one entrance and no way out and it knew of the secrets of curses to bind power to a place and once Bright Thunder Roars had entered the canyon, it could not leave.

'Why would you do this?' Bright Thunder Roars cried, and it echoed through the canyon but no further."

All around the building the gathered villagers whisper 'why would you do this?' until it is all anyone can hear. The tale-spinner raises her hands.

"The Stalker of Hidden Secrets would not say. It kept its secrets and left Bright Thunder Roars to its fate, echoing through that canyon for an age. And though it looked and looked for a way out, there was none. Each direction it could go would bounce it to another wall, another rock, and another and another and another. Now, we have all stood at the canyon edge and called into it and heard our voices return to us. We do this every year to show respect to Bright Thunder Roars and the power it left there. But we also know that the echo does not last. It lingers, yes, but fades. And this was to be Bright Thunder Roars' story were it not for a pair of spirit-speakers and a curse-breaker."

This always caused a small stir, for curse-breaking had once been a proud tradition in their village, but the art had been lost in the Second Reckoning, leaving them without means to fight curses that might be cast upon them.

"The spirit-speakers came to the canyon by chance and heard a sound unheard for years, for in that time when Lightning's Swift Strike lit the land, no sound followed it, no roar could be heard anywhere across the island. Some said that the lightning struck more and more the longer Bright Thunder Roars was imprisoned, seeking it out and unable to find it. But the spirit-speakers heard the echoes and they came to the canyon. They called to the echo and it called back, only a faint reminder of what it had once been. The curse-breaker set to work, unraveling the magic set by the Stalker of Hidden Secrets. It took the three of them five days and nights to free the Thunderspeaker. And when the curse was broken, the curse-breaker collapsed, spent. The spirit-speakers asked themselves how they would get him back to their village when a figure emerged from the canyon."

"Thunderspeaker! Child of the Lightning!" the villagers cheer.

"Indeed it was!" the tale-spinner agrees. "And Thunderspeaker had taken a form like ours, but taller and stronger and it picked up the curse-breaker and cradled him in its arms. It bestowed upon the spirit-speakers the gift of booming voices and it declared that it would bind itself to our people for generations. One generation for each year of captivity. And this is why we go to the canyon. This is why we tell the tale. And this is why our curse-breakers are gone, lost, their secrets stolen by the Stalker of Hidden Secrets, taken in payment for the loss of its captive. Or so we believe. No one has told us otherwise. Now, no one has seen Thunderspeaker in some time. Why this tale? Why tonight?"

"I saw it," a man at the back of the room says. It is the same man who had called out the tale for the night. "I went to the canyon and I saw it walking along the edge. It called out to me but there were no words, just the sound of thunder."

The tale-spinner beckons the man forward and he comes and sits before her.

"When was this?" she asks him. "Why did you not speak of it?"

"It happened just this morning," he tells her. "And I only returned as the sun was setting. Thunderspeaker carried a shield only and when it spoke I fell to my knees."

The tale-spinner thinks of the tales she knows. She thinks of tales of war and of reckonings, of curses and fear. She thinks of Thunderspeaker and all it has done for the Dahan. Not just this village, but the clans across the island.

"This is a sign," the tale-spinner says. "We must prepare. The thunder follows the lightning. Something has struck. We must be ready for what is coming."