The Wavecrest and the Songkeeper Plot in Teshelyn | World Anvil
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The Wavecrest and the Songkeeper

Kishti’s jaw tingled with a familiar sensation, and he relished the almost-unbearable pain that spread to his inner ear as the waves of sound washed over him.   Whalesong.   He cursed himself for not being prepared already as he focused on the water in front of him. Sonar clicks probed and pushed at the water, rolling and forming a sphere. As it began to take shape, Kishti started pulsing the orb with mana-infused clicks, giving it the ability to absorb the sounds around it. He could make out the shape in the dimly-lit water with his eyes - a large, greenish globe with streaks of gray - but to his echolocation, it was invisible. That’s when he knew it was ready.   He sung out with the specific tone that commanded the sphere to follow alongside him as he sped towards the source of the behemoth’s voice. Finally, he would have something to take back to the library. He was tired of showing up with a blank sphere, or even worse, with a sphere containing a recording identical to someone else’s. The silty waters cleared to let sunlight through as he neared the surface, and he couldn’t help but burst forth into the air as he surged towards the whale. The sun warmed his back as the fresh Balacen air cooled his lungs, and he turned his nose downward to return to the water. The sphere orbited his powerful tail as he pumped it as fast as he could. He was barely cognizant of the flicks and twitches of his fins that kept him on course, so excited was he to reach the whale.   The hazy figure ahead began to take shape. Kishti was never unamazed at the sheer size of whales. The one before him appeared to be an older female, judging by her size and the slight curve in her back. The gently trailing edges on either side of her tail fins marked her as a songkeeper, as her species was known among the dolphins. They tended to be the most vocal, and as such their songs made up the bulk of the collections of every library that Kishti had seen.   Her song continued, and Kishti approached slowly, hoping not to interrupt. He knew he had been spotted - there was no way he couldn’t have been - but he was still wary about moving any closer. Even if he did want to move forward, the water was so thick and alive with sound that he had trouble staying upright. He kept an eye on the sphere as it soaked in the sound waves, mentally preparing to spin a second one if the song continued for too long. The song soon ended, though, and bubbles rose from the back of Kishti’s head as he sighed in relief. He sang out a short melody - his best approximation of a songkeeper show of gratitude - and set off for the nearest library.   He paused at the surface to catch his breath. Consistent breathing always felt strange to him, but it was oddly relaxing after the rush earlier. He swept the area with sonar pulses to orient himself - there was a library close by, a short swim south, then a dive to the ocean floor. The sphere bobbed lazily beside him as he called a spell to mind. The gently rolling surface of the water changed its pattern, climbing through the air to enclose a space around Kishti’s blowhole. He had made the dive to the library before, but it was still too deep for him to do comfortably without an air source. He took a moment to wonder why an air-breathing being would choose to build something so deep before plunging back into the water.   ***   The air in the bubble was getting stale, and the pressure of the depths was beginning to bother his ears, but Kishti had made it. Pinpoints of phosphorescence pierced the darkness of the deep, marking the archive’s entrance. Kishti veered right, towards the opening designed for dolphins, balaceti, and other smaller beings. He focused on the entrance and called out.   kishti // wavecrest // sphere-tender // songkeeper   It was a simple song meant only to identify himself to the watchers. The reply came shortly after:   little spinner // brings us noise? // or perhaps // an echo of an echo?   Kishti’s stomach sank. He hated when his people were called “spinners,” especially by the roughtooths evidently working the guard shift. He was far from the most celebrated sphere-tender on Teshelyn, but he would rather be completely unknown than mocked for his past mistakes. He sang a response before he knew what he was doing - empty spheres // empty skulls // I bring neither // which is yours? - and almost froze in terror at what he had done. After a brief moment that felt like a lifetime, chattering clicks reached his ears - roughtooth laughter. He forced an air of confidence and composure as he glided through the metallic ring that encircled the library’s entrance, past the still-chuckling roughtooths and into the main chamber. A temptation arose in his mind to ping the sphere with just enough of a note to cause it to echo its contained song for the two guards, but he managed to fight past the urge.   The library was designed to only be partially submerged at any given time, and Kishti slowly floated to the surface, where fresh air was transported in. The withering bubble around his blowhole dissipated with a dull pop, and he breathed deep of the artificial atmosphere. The libraries’ air always tasted strange, tinged with hints of ozone and metal. Kishti never knew if it was because of the machines that operated within the library, or the magic that transported the air down there. The song sphere broke the surface beside him, almost clearing the water before settling with a small splash.   “You’ve brought us another one, Kishti?” came a voice from below. “You are nothing if not determined.” The orca’s low grumbles and clicks caught Kishti by surprise, but it was a welcome change from having to compose and interpret short songs constantly. Kishti submerged once more to face the librarian.   “Yes, Dravka.” He twisted his tail to gesture at the sphere. “Songkeeper. I captured it not too far away, in the shallows north of here. I’m surprised one of the sphere tenders here didn’t catch it,” Kishti whistled with affected confidence. “… They didn’t, right?”   The old orca let out a good-natured laugh. “No, Kishti, once again you are the first. Now let’s hear what you brought back.”   As Kishti followed the orca down and into the halls of the archive, he was again reminded of just how small his species were in comparison to other lifeforms. Dravka was a fully mature orca, over four times Kishti’s body length from her snout to her tail. He found himself having to avoid the beats of her massive pectoral fins on several occasions as they swam through the electrum-ringed tubes. After each collision she would whistle an apology, with a look of genuine concern in her wrinkled eyes. Even her eyepatches almost as large as Kishti. Each one swept back and upward from behind her eye, forking slightly at the end. A gentle slope of gray began just behind her dorsal fin, reaching up and across her back to the other side. Kishti often had trouble distinguishing orcas based on their markings, but he could have recognized Dravka even through miles of murky water.   After many twists and turns the tube opened into a massive, almost perfectly spherical chamber. The water level rose three-quarters of the way to the top, and Kishti broke away from Dravka to quickly take a breath before meeting the senior sphere tender currently on the job. He just hoped it wasn’t –   “Kishti.” He cringed as he heard the silverfin’s disdainful pronunciation of his name. “What is it this time?” Cara was always harsh with him. The elder dolphin had presided over some of his more spectacular failures, so it was easy to understand her attitude, but she made it seem like she had only presided over his failures.   Kishti sheepishly submerged himself and slowly approached her, the song sphere in tow. With a nod from Dravka, he began to speak. “I was in the shallows north of here when I heard the song begin. There may be a few seconds missing from the beginning as I prepared the sphere, but I was close to the whale the whole time. It should be a good quality sphere.”   “You actually recorded something this time?”   “Yes, Cara.”   “And it’s something significant?”   “Yes, Cara.”   “It’s actually from a whale this time and not balaceti pranksters?”   “Yes, Cara.”   “Is it a song from another lonely whale about how desperate she is to find a mate?”   “Yes, Cara – I mean no, Cara.”   She nodded slightly, and Kishti honestly could not tell if her interrogation was for anything more than her own amusement. He sighed with relief when she called out a single note to the sphere, taking it from him.   He followed her to the main stage in the center of the chamber. In the center of the elliptical stage stood a small pedestal with three brackets surrounding it. It was in this pedestal that Cara carefully placed the sphere, guiding and rolling it into position with sonar. On either end of the stage were two large dishes facing inward, designed to reflect and amplify sound waves. Cara approached one of these dishes and spoke, her voice reverberating throughout the chamber and the entire aquacoustic archive. “Attention, song sphere playback is about to begin in the main chamber. All cetalinguistic scholars please report to the main chamber quickly.”   Kishti squirmed with anticipation. He wanted to skip past the ceremony, the gathering, and just get to the part where he knew already that this sphere was once again nothing of import or even of interest. He was partially aware of Dravka next to him, which had contradictory effects on him. Dravka was one of his staunchest supporters at the archive, which helped relax him, but she was also one of the foremost experts on whalesong, and he was terrified of what she would tell him the song contained. He rushed to the surface, twisting abruptly to avoid colliding with a trio of balaceti scholars who had just entered the chamber. He thought he even saw a human swim in through one of the tubes, but he attributed it to nerves. His back broke the surface and he inhaled deeply, willing himself to be calm. Dravka surfaced beside him, and the sound of her exhalation helped wrest him free of his thoughts. He slowly inhaled and exhaled, submerging again after the third inhalation.   The audience had arrived in its entirety, and Kishti negotiated the crowds to take his place by Cara’s side as she prepared the machine. Orcas made up the bulk of the archive’s cetalinguists, and a local resident pod made their home not far from this archive. A handful of balaceti were interspersed among the orcas, their painted-on eyespots seeming almost comical next to their inspirations. Their odd mixture of whale and human features always bothered Kishti, as though something had forced them to look that way. Nonetheless, they were second only to the orcas in cetalinguistics - not even the dolphins had their knack for understanding whalesong. They could converse with dolphins well enough, but Kishti had always found talking with balaceti to be a tiresome affair, with slight misunderstandings compounding on both sides to the point where a conversation was entirely counterproductive. He still tried his best though, as the balaceti held the unique position of being able to communicate with dolphins, humans, and possibly even whales. Very few dolphins stayed behind for the recording. Most of the dolphins associated with the archive were sphere tenders like Kishti, librarians like Cara, or sentries like the ones Kishti had inadvertently insulted earlier. The nuance of whalesong often proved to be too much for most would-be dolphin cetalinguists. Kishti himself had attempted to learn, but after a few embarrassing mistranslations of well-known whalesong recordings, he had decided to limit himself to capturing the songs.   He could have sworn Cara almost smiled at him as he sidled up next to her. The turbulent rush of anxieties he had just fought down threatened to surge back, but he steeled himself for the performance.   Cara swam forward, addressing the audience in a simplified dialect designed for dolphin-balaceti communications. “Thank you all for coming. We present today a song captured by one of our most, ah, prolific sphere tenders, Kishti of Wavecrest.” She circled the center stage, repeating her announcement for the half of the audience that had been at her back. She was striking for a silverfin, even at her age. Kishti took note of how minimal the effort she put into swimming was. Silverfen tended to be more adept with magic than wavecrests, and he thought she may have been utilizing some small spell to propel her through the water. Finally she returned to face him. “Kishti, if you would introduce your song.”   Kishti nodded slowly and twisted to face the amplifiers. He paused for a moment, mentally preparing a short melody, and sang out.   sphere tender kishti // songkeeper’s tale // knower of histories // balacen shallows   The song reverberated off of the nearest amplifier and through the entire chamber. It was meant not only to introduce the coming song, but to focus the sound through the sphere and cause an echo of the song contained within. Kishti nervously waited for the echoes of his own voice to die out, and braced for what came next.   The force of the whale’s voice was just as immense in the recording as it had been live. He could feel the vibrations of the water against his skin, and almost through his bones. The sound was like a palpable wall before him, but the song itself was remarkably less forceful. He focused on the voice of the songkeeper, visualizing her as he had found her during the recording. He had never had too much of an ear for the subtleties of whalesong, but this one was immaculately composed and infinitely emotional. He let the pseudowaves created by the sound rock him back and forth as the song filled his mind. None of it meant anything concrete to him, but the sentiment behind the song was clear: something was missing, empty. The singer was lamenting a loss, or perhaps something that had never been there at all. But there was potential approaching, something new in the future. An unclear and hazy promise, perhaps, but it was preferable to more emptiness. Suddenly the key changed and the singer held a prolonged note, and Kishti remembered that being near the end of the song. He pulled himself out of the reverie of the whalesong, his heart sinking as he remembered why the crowd had gathered. His own interpretation of the song may very well have been accurate, but it was just as applicable to historic technological breakthroughs as it was to a lonely widowed whale. The echoes of the final notes of the song slowly died, and Kishti looked out over the crowd in barely-masked nervousness.   The faces of the audience ranged from the rapturous awe of the balaceti students to the stern indifference of the elder orcas. Kishti took a small amount of comfort in the fact that no one seemed to be laughing at him this time. Cara once again swam past him to address the archive.   “Thank you, this concludes the recital of our latest songsphere. It will be available in the archive library for personal study and translation shortly. We look forward to your results.”   As she finished, the crowd started to filter slowly out of the aquacoustic chamber. Eventually the only ones left near the stage were Kishti, Cara, and Dravka. He looked nervously between the two, waiting for them to impart their judgments.   Dravka was the first to speak. “Calm down, little one. It’s over.” Her deep voice and lilting enunciation almost managed to soothe Kishti, but he was still on edge from the performance. “And from what I understood of the song, it was something very impressive indeed.”   “Like what?” Cara whipped around to face Dravka. Kishti stifled a laugh - Cara maintained a scholarly disposition, but she could never seem to hide her curiosity.   “Well, it seemed to mention something I have only heard of from a handful of other songs,” Dravka continued. “Tell me, Cara, Kishti, are you familiar with the Heart of the Giant?”   “Of course,” Kishti said, surprising himself. “It’s mentioned in a few of the songs translated for dolphins. But there might have been some confusion among the translators, since none of the descriptions match each other very closely.”   “Ah, that is not a fault of the translators - be at ease, Cara - but of the nature of the object itself. It figures into a few obscure whale legends, either as an actual heart, most often of a leviathan, or as some sort of genesis chamber. In each story that mentions it, it is involved in the birth of someone, either a mighty hero or an entire clan. What you’ve stumbled upon, Kishti, is something else entirely. As I understood it, the main verse of the song was as follows:   hollow waters   absent currents, silent shores   the Heart of the Giant   lies breathless.”   Cara’s eyes widened. “The Nulltide.”   Dravka nodded serenely. “Exactly. Kishti, I believe you’ve found the location of something great.”
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