Shaman of the Seas
The Story of Mariana Zuohai
As far back as my family remembers my ancestors lived in Songae and my great grandmothers were the shaman of our community. Our fishing village was one of the most productive in the region, thanks in no small part to the powers of my grandmothers. These extended far beyond healing the sick and predicting the weather, and some say they were even able to control the wind and the waves themselves, sheltering us from the worst storms and guaranteeing bountiful harvests from the sea. However, our constant good luck made the surrounding villages jealous and we became a target for pirates who lusted after the pearls and other treasures that our divers pulled from the depths. While small raids were common and not too difficult to repel, one night the other villages banded together against us and persuaded several groups of pirates to attack together. Their force was overwhelming and although sudden storms claimed many of their ships, our village was reduced to ashes and only one if five escaped with their lives. The survivors fled from Songae taking only what they had managed to carry from their burning houses. For many, many years they traveled along the coast of the Orient, trying to find somewhere to found a new village, but no one was willing to allow them to settle. It was during these years that my mother was born. Raised while moving from place to place, my grandmother began to teach her the way of the shaman. Eventually they reached the far western coast of the Orient where they found a ship offering passage to the Occident, to a place called Maxow, where all immigrants were welcomed.
Trading away nearly all they owned, my small community managed to purchase passage on ship crossing the sea. By this time my grandmother and many of the original community were elderly and in poor health, but nevertheless they pressed on. One night during the middle of the voyage a great storm swept up. The ship rocked violently and the captain began to throw items overboard as the ship began taking on water. While Undines have never feared the waves, being so far from land meant that survival was not guaranteed. My grandmother, oldest of them all however, was not afraid. Mustering all the strength she had she made her way to the deck of the ship and began chanting and dancing. The captain tried to get her to return to the hold, but she went on dancing and chanting, calling out to Umuloni to calm the waves. As my grandmother danced faster and faster the ship rocked harder and harder. Everyone was truly afraid it would sink. However my grandmother kept dancing. At the peak of her ecstatic dance she called out to Umuloni. Then suddenly the sea and wind were still and my grandmother collapsed to the floor of the ship, never to rise again.
The captain and crew of the ship knew immediately that my grandmother had died to save them. While my community mourned her passing, the captain guided the ship safely to Maxow, with gentle winds behind us the rest of the way. Once we arrived he helped our group find a place to settle on a small island off the coast. There we built a new community upon our old skills of fishing and diving for treasures. My mother, although still inexperienced, took over my grandmother’s role at the center of the community.
The first few decades in the independent kingdom of Maxow went smoothly for my community. They traded their fish and findings at the city markets, although they rarely mingled with the locals, who were suspicious of our strange looks. As more island communities sprouted up the men also saw the need for ferries, since most others cannot swim nearly as well as we can. We became prosperous once again; however, once again there were those who were jealous of our success. The gangs who control many of the Maxow neighborhoods were upset that they were not getting their cut of our profits. They began threatening our ferrymen and not allowing us to trade at the markets without paying an illegal market fee. The city watch was spread too thin to help and our request for assistance from the Queen went unanswered. While we resisted at first, the threats soon turned to violence and my mother had to start curing the wounds of our community members beat up by the gangs. While some of our community urged my mother to give in and have us pay, others wanted to fight back. A split in an Undine community is a rare thing and my mother had no one to help guide her.
Before she could decide a course however, those who wanted to fight managed to drown a thug who was beating one of our ferrymen. The gang to which he belonged wasted no time in seeking revenge. They killed several of our ferrymen who were still on the mainland and then took the ferries in order to attack the island. As soon as my mother heard what happened she was furious that she was not consulted before action was taken, however now there was no turning back. As the ferry with thugs approached the island she began to dance and chant and call the waves. A great wave rose up from the bay and rolled over the ferry, drowning more than a dozen men on board. After my mother came out of her dance, she was overcome with guilt at what she had done. While the men had threatened our village, there must have been another way she said. She no longer felt she had the leadership necessary to lead our clan. She appointed one of the head ferrymen as community leader and instructed him to do as necessary and to pay what was needed to keep the village safe. My mother then took a small group and left the village for a new life where she could find peace.
While the Rushtide coast was not as welcoming to our kind as Maxow had been, there was always need for healers and those who could predict the weather. And although my mother could do much more than that, she kept her talents hidden. I was born during our families wandering days as my mother and father moved from town to town. I grew up among the few other families that went with us, having children of my kind to grow with, although I occasionally met others in the towns where we stayed. It was not an easy life, always moving from place to place, but as my parents aged, we moved less and less, and eventually found a small village not far from Archons that had welcomed us more than others. As I grew I spent much time in the sea; diving, fishing, dancing. One day my mother noticed that as I danced among the waves they seemed to begin to move in rhythm with me. While I thought this was natural, she took me aside and told me not to do this when others were watching. That was when my training began. It was simple at first, learning how to call to Umuloni or to the water and waves themselves for power. She showed me simple tricks to make light and water and wind. Over the years she began to let me watch her work, healing the sick, calling the winds, and moving the waves. Then she taught me how to move these powers to others, helping them succeed at diving and finding treasures. One day, after years of training, she told me to look to the sea and call out for a guide. While I had no idea of what she meant I did as she asked. At first, nothing happened. I began to feel myself becoming distracted, watching a distant osprey dive for fish. I wanted to help it, but I had never used my powers on an animal. As I moved my hips and chanted the now familiar rhythm, I saw the bird come up with something shinning in its claws and bring it to me. It was a silver fish like none I had ever seen. The osprey dropped the fish in my hand and somehow I knew it wanted me to eat it. I was quite hungry to I leaned in and took a bite and suddenly the osprey shimmered like water and flew to my shoulder. At that moment my mother appeared down the beach. “You’ve found what you were looking for,” she said.
After this my mother spent more and more time in the village with the rest of the family and began sending me out to attend to her tasks in other villages and even occasionally in the cities. I helped heal the sick, ensured good catches, and even tried my hand at some of the dancing competitions in Archons once in a while, although I never told my mother about that. Dancing for my family is a way of life though, and the more I moved the more knowledge it opened up. I began to see dancing everywhere I looked, in the movement of the wind in the tree and the waves in the ocean; even the way people moved on a crowded street I saw was actually an intricate dance. The more I moved the more the movement of the wind and the waves and everything around opened up before me. Soon I was leaning new tricks that my mother never taught me and began practicing these when she was not watching. Sometimes I would turn the waves to ice or steam or would make plants grow and winds change.
One day not long ago my mother caught me freeze a wave into a block of ice and started shouting at me. I didn’t understand why she was so upset. I had never heard the full story of what she did back in Maxow and had no idea she would object to bending the elements in this way. However, after she had calmed and I had promised not to do it again, my father came to me. While my father was an excellent diver and a hard worker, my mother had been the one to raise me. It was something of a surprise when he came to talk with me. He explained the story above and why my mother was so opposed to any trick as she called it, which might hurt someone. My father knew however, that the world was a rougher place than my mother wanted it to be and he was already worried about me on my travels. Therefore, he told me to keep up with my tricks, but to keep them to myself, and in the meantime he also showed me how to use the trident and a few other tools and weapons that kept him safe under the water and while traveling to markets to sell his finds on land.
When the hurricane hit Gideon City my mother was the first to know. She had always been in touch with the water and the waves, and while strong storms were not uncommon, she knew them to be natural, all part of Umuloni’s never-ending dance. This however, was different. While my mother felt the hurricane early on, it took several weeks for news of the event to reach us. My mother knew something this devastating could not be the work of Umuloni, but who else could cause something so powerful and destructive? My mother insisted she had to go to find out for herself and aid those wounded by the storm, but my father held her back knowing that the road there would not be easy and that she had no way to defend herself. Instead he turned to me. While my mother objected, she wanted to know the truth, and knew that with my wisdom that I could discern the cause.
Therefore my family sent me off; a wanderer by the sea now heading to the biggest port city on the continent. While I had been to Archons and a few other cities of Rushtide, I had never been more than a few hundred miles from my home. I had no idea what to expect or what to do, but I knew my mother was counting on me. They booked passage for me with a local captain they trusted who said he had a friend in the city that would help me out. While the journey here was not easy, it did give me a chance to hone my skills and spells, as I’ve learned they are called. Now here I am in Mr. Bareth Lantern’s shop, but before he could even put me on the right track for learning more about the storm, he has a problem of his own.
With the dust now settling after the battle with the Snake of Sevens, Mariana has finally had a chance to take a deep breath and think about the events of the past few weeks. Only a couple of months ago she was boarding a ship for her first extended voyage away from the Rushtide coast, tasked by her mother to investigate the destructive hurricane that battered Gideon city. Since then she’s made friends in unexpected places – a gunner whose courage far outstretched his stature, a mage who blasts with fire but crafts with exceptional care, a performer who could make a sword sing as well as well as his mouth, a moon child whose faith never wavered, a wrestler who competed for more than just gold. At the same time she’s seen horrors she never dreamed existed, but with the help of her companions conquered even these. Even when the mystery of the hurricane was solved she knew there was no way she could return home without providing the healing hand her friends so needed, and now with war brewing, it seems that her skills might be in high demand. Nevertheless, she can’t be everywhere at once, and it appears that fighting is going to quickly move beyond Gideon city and Eustace. With that in mind Mariana is leaving the local temple to Umuloni in the coming week, just as soon she has finished providing some modest training to the local acolytes which whom she has worked closely over the last months. She plans to return to Rushtide to check in with her community and report to her mother on the cause of the hurricane, as well as the new troubles that are brewing. However, Mariana now knows that she cannot stay cloistered in her coastal community forever; her skills will soon be needed in many locales. While Mariana does not feel strongly about archmages or dragons, she knows that many innocents will be caught in the crossfire, and with that in mind she will head to the battlefields, to bring the healing dance of Umuloni to all of those in need.