“Hey, kid, wake up. We’re approaching Lathe." A passing sailor nudged Rini with the tip of his boot before moving over to check the ropes in preparation of lowering the sails. Rini snapped awake and pulled her knees against her chest reflexively, rubbing the corner of her left eye with her knuckles before getting her bearings. It had been a week since she boarded Joyous Wave, the ship she was on, from her home village in the Cinder Coast. Pushing up with a little help from the barrel she had been napping against, the girl looked about the ship and the sailors moving about busily. She was short, a few inches above five foot, with a notable measure of that height gained from her recent puberty. Her hair was creamy beige and tied to a high ponytail with a leather band that she had slipped a lark feather through to accent her otherwise plain features; skinny limbs, sun-tanned skin, high cheekbones and dull green almond-shaped eyes. Tugging her brown traveler’s cloak closer around herself, she shuffled over to the bow of the ship and peered at the horizon splotched with mountainous tropical islands dressed in verdant jungles and white-sand shores. "I can’t see it." The girl muttered to herself under her breath, which provoked a laugh from the sailor who had woken her up. "It’s behind that island, it’ll come to view soon. You can’t miss it, trust me." Rini gave the man a sour look, sat on a barrel and once again pulled out the letter from her knapsack to convince herself that the trip was worth it. Reading her uncle’s cursive handwriting had a soothing effect on her, even though the contents were distressing. Her brother had fallen gravely ill after getting mixed with a bad crowd, and her uncle couldn’t both work as a ‘scraper’ - whatever that meant - and take care of him, so he needed Rini to come and take care of her sibling. There were mentions of ‘amaranthine dust’ and the new satrap’s men, but they meant nothing to the girl. She had chosen to uproot the life she knew to be with the other half of her family in the biggest city in the region, leaving behind her parents to their birth island of Drustu-Moa.
Before Rini could finish reading the letter, a sudden blast of raging storm winds hit the ship, blowing the sails concave and sending it drifting sideways. Letting out a surprised scream, Rini’s grasp on the letter relented and the scroll was torn from her hands overboard. Scampering after it instinctively, the girl was thrown off balance and rolled a dozen yards across the deck as the bow peaked. “Imperial Navy! Secure the sails!" shouted the spotter who had been descending from the crow’s nest, catching onto the rigging to keep himself from falling off the ship. The Joyous Wave’s front dipped back down, allowing Rini - now clutching the base of a mast for dear life - to see the source of the disturbance. "It’s The Sword of Daana’d!" exclaimed a nearby sailor as Rini’s eyes grew wide at the sight. The gargantuan five-masted Shogunate-era windjammer with a hull of black jade and cold iron seemed to repel water as it clove through the sea with preternatural speed. In its wake followed a living whirlwind as high as the ship’s tallest mast, spitting out streaks of lightning and columns of foam as it propelled the warship forward. The ship had just turned a corner from behind the island about a mile from the girl, the palm trees by the island’s shore still wet from the great wave that had rocked the ship. "Looks like they’re in a hurry, the Lintha must be testing the waters." The sailors fastened knots and resumed their routine as if nothing had happened when the rocking ceased and Rini struggled upright to peer at the majestic black vessel heading East. On its deck, she could barely see a man and a woman with brilliant blue hair and gleaming black and blue jade armor, wearing cloaks of deep azure. The woman lifted her hand and pointed forward, which made the subservient whirlwind skew further into the sails, granting the vessel a burst of amazing speed. Within minutes, the ship had sailed out of the girl’s view, leaving her staring at the nearby sailors dumbfounded. "If that caught you off guard, kid, you’re in for a wild ride." The sailor that had woken her up commented in a friendly manner and then glanced over his shoulder before thumbing behind himself. "There. Take a look at that." The girl furrowed her brow and pushed at the sailor’s shoulder as she made her way past him, moving back to the bow. Her pace slowed down unwittingly as she took in the view, her hands moving to clutch her chest to keep her racing heart in check.
Mount Valiant slowly slid into the girl’s view, its shattered peak reaching a mile high. The volcano rose from between a sprawling jungle and the turquoise sea busy with the slender dhows of the islanders with their colorful lateen sails and heavy trading junks of Goldseal. Around the mountain, coiled, laid the four mile long corpse of Heart-Cleaving Lathe, the colossal primal centipede spirit that in ancient times had leeched hope itself from the hearts of the inhabitants of the Bay of Kings. Impaling the behemoth to the mountainside through its thorax rose the legendary Spear of Triumph in undeniable majesty, reaching several hundred yards toward the sky. The shaft was wrapped in one hundred thousand red and white scarves that signified the wishes and dreams of the people that had made the petrified carcass their home, flowing in the wind. Somewhere behind her the sailor spoke, but Rini did not hear him. The sight of her new home had silently spoken to her the same words he had offered her.