For Glory, For Empire
Voices and the Sea
The exact chronology of this vignette is a little vague, but it probably takes place before the Grand Gathering Expedition.
“What? Hey, I’m a functioning drunk. I drink, and as a function of the alcohol, I get drunk and fall down. See? Working 100% as nature intended, nothing dysfunctional about it.”
That answer wasn’t enough to win another wineskin from the stern colonist brewer near the beach, and so Ts’ao Hai was sent ambling off along the sands in his usual rolling gait. He was far too sober on a night like this when the stars were full in the sky, and the sweet breeze wafting the smell of the sea past his face. The sand was soft underfoot as he walked his way along the coast, head flung back so far that his hat almost slid off his head, his eyes turned up toward the stars.
Yes, it wasn’t a good night to be without drink, because it was the sort of night that made one think. Ts’ao Hai had come to this land on a whim as wild and sudden as a hot summer squall, planning to show up his wife and set himself up a nice place to relax in between sorties. To him, this place had just been a paradise where he could kick up his feet in the lull between voyages and battles. It was a place where things did not happen, where he could get a breather from the action. It was just a small part of the story that was Ts’ao Hai. This place was just a reverie in his tale, a brief interlude; a quite literal flight of fancy.
He’d never considered that this place would have stories of its own to tell, and that they would stories voiced in sorrow and inked in blood, dark things that brooded in the shadows between pages. There was the story of Westgate, of these colonists and their hope of a new home constantly undercut by a tenor of terror as the jungle tried to expel them, or to eat them. There was the story of those peoples already here, the struggles and passions that had been playing out long before anyone from the West had thought of setting foot on this continent, joys and sorrows as worthy as any of theirs.
Each individual had their own tale as well; Talis, and her quest for the light, her determination to face what had been left sealed here so long ago, long before even her grand sires had been born. She was a good woman, and honestly deserved all the help of the world in her quest, and certainly more than this motley crew and its warring ambitions could give her. Hell, there was the story of his very own daughter, who had somehow ended up here, and ended up as a terrible wreck of a young woman, barely tolerated by those around her.
There were others too, and as Ts’ao Hai thought through what he knew of each of them, it grew on him more and more that if he tried to live out his story, fulfill his own ambitions, he might crowd out some of these other voices. That his selfish and ill planned venture might cost others their desires. And he couldn’t be sure he could make someone else pay that kind of price for his comfort. He realized that he wanted his own voice to fall silent for a while. For now, he wanted to listen.
He continued to walk as he watched the stars and listened to the sea, the hiss of the rolling tide. He thought for a moment he could hear the sea’s voice, telling him how he might help these others tell their story. He was listening a long while before his feet took him back to the colony. It was nearly dawn when the Bea’txo found his way back to his hammock and swung himself into it, closing his eyes to dream of his wife, and the woman he’d loved long before he met his wife, the woman who haunted him from Yu-Chen’s eyes. To him, the voices of the two women were the same as the whisper of the waves, breathing into his ear with every break of the surf.