Muri rose from the chaotic swirl of shimmering energies after loosing himself to them for a time, gathering a quantity of the flow together and bearing it up with him, to replenish the power he had used the days previous. Keletikt had taught him a great deal, both in technique, and in perception. He had always known of the flow of life energies about him in the past, but had been unable to perceive it unless he were a part of it. Kel had shown him how, with a sidelong glance and some concentration, how he could perceive it without entering into any meditation. It was an aspect of spirit magic, not normally known to those who wielded 'traditional' magic as Muri knew it. Luckily for both himself and the Lutin shaman, both were relatively interchangeable, it only required some patience and a willingness to learn things that often went against the grain of previous knowledge.
Even now, narrowing his eyes, he could see the dim bluish white shimmer just below the earth, collecting together into narrow lines of force that stretched off in all directions from the node upon which he sat. Kel had noticed the 'node', a point where several lines came together, as being relatively new, created most likely by Muri's habit of taking energy from that point. His activities had created a natural pull at the surrounding energy, making it pool up before flowing away to the south.
Hopping down from his perch, Muri blinked away the vision of the flow and glanced around by habit. There was nothing here to disturb his attentions this time, he could finish the task Kel had interrupted a week past. He needed to make a new blade for his pick, to replace the one that broke when he slew the giant over a week ago. Kel merely shrugged when Muri asked him why the giants were foraging further south than normal, not revealing knowledge Muri sensed he had.
Muri turned from the light and openness of the world and retreated into the dark crack in the mountainside that served as his home, descending the twisting, sloping passage to the large chamber below. The biggest of those areas he claimed as 'home', the central chamber served him as a storage, work area, and sometime lab. He studied the less destructive forms of his magic there, reading the precious books of learning Heiorn had given him so long ago. Two years for many is not a great span of time, but when it marks the end of one life and the beginning of an entirely new and different one, it can be an eternity.
He did not stop in that chamber, crossing it and moving into a side passage, narrower and much more steeply inclined. The water that dripped from the rocks into the higher rooms naturally found its way here, carving a narrow track into the floor of the steep chute. Muri had been forced to dig handholds to use this tunnel, which led another hundred feet deeper into the mountain. He whispered up a dim witchlight to follow him down, giving him sight where it was normally denied.
At the bottom of the steep tunnel lay a much larger chamber than the one above. Indeed, it was open enough to encompas his entire set of rooms. The far wall nearly lost in the inky shadows, only the reflected shine of his witchlight revealed the contoured wetness of pale limestone. The ceiling was some fifty feet or more above his head, studded with huge stalactites, just as the floor was studded with their mates. Here and there a joined pillar cast shadows which twisted and danced as Muri's light moved with him into the forest of stalagmites. Down the center of the huge cavern flowed a larger stream of bitterly cold, clear water, white fish swimming lazily about without care as his light revealed them.
This cavern had been a godsend to Muri in his first year here, before he learned enough about the local animals to hunt them. The fish were easy to catch, being utterly blind to his presence until he speared them. They were not large, as some river fish could get, but two of them served to provide a good meal in a pinch. The high mineral content of the water also gave them a flavor unlike any Muri had ever tasted during his years in Sathmore.
He crossed the large stream using a natural bridge of stone, moving deeper into the chamber, following the line of the stream until the burbling trickle faded into silence at the edge of a huge underground lake. He had never crossed that lake, though once or twice curious lights in the distance had made him eager to explore. But not alone. He had no real idea what else might be in the darkness besides him, and had no great itch to meet something unexpectedly in the middle of that lake.
Near the lake was a clear, smooth area of sand and age smoothed pebbles. A large slab of squared off marble sat in the center of the beach, as if dropped from somewhere high above, but there was no marble anywhere to be found in these caves as far as Muri had ever discovered. Its presence was an anomaly, and the sheer pull of it had brought him here long ago when he was spearing fish. With a shift in perception, he looked at it once more. The white glow of a large 'node' filled his vision, extending across the entire beach and into the lake, where moving points of dim blue revealed the presence of fish. Thick currents of power came from all directions, each small river of power having a differing shade of blue or white.
Banishing the vision, Muri knelt before the stone, much as he had in the past, and laid upon it a collection of nuts, berries, and leaves. "I have things to share with the heart of the mountain." he called out loudly, his voice echoing into the silence of the cave, coming back to him in many different tones and times, making it seem as if he had awakened an army of mockers. "Stories to tell, knowledge to share." His voice filled the distant darkness, shifting through the entire range of vocal octaves.
"Sssstoriessss...." that word came back to him in a voice utterly other than his own, with no echoes in its sibilant rumble, like two massive stones sliding across one another. Muri did not move despite the sudden raising of his hackles at the sinister power of the voice, suddenly deeply aware of the crushing weight of the mountain around him. It was a sensation that almost sent him scurrying for the light, blathering like a madman the first time it had asked him his name. The voice brought with it thoughts of timeless age, of the crushing weight of stone upon stone. "Knowwwledge to sssshhareeee." the voice, sourceless at first, focused upon a point in the cavern wall across the stone from Muri. Closer, more focused, the skunk could sense the gay trickle of water under the stone weight in the voice, the hollow howl of underground winds.
"Grimshori." Muri smiled, his voice lowering as he addressed the source of the voice. At first it appeared as nothing more than a shadow upon the stone, then as dim shapes worn into the stone. Slowly a face resolved itself from the wall, then shoulders and legs as the bearer of the voice came forth. Eventually a large, blocky humanoid female emerged directly from the stone itself. A nymph of the mountain. The nymph of the mountain, as ancient as the stones of the mountain itself, and nearly as ageless. She had been around since before Man or Lutin had crossed spears in the depths of history.
There was an odd beauty about her, which Muri could not help but feel some response to. The innate allure of all nymphs, though some had much more than others. She was tall and stout, like a baker's wife, with broad shoulders and massive, muscular arms and legs. A strange garment of shale grey was her choice of garment, which Muri had found odd. He wore few if any clothes, having his own fur to keep warm, and as far as he knew the ancient nymph had never seen many humans or lutins to understand the concept of 'clothing', yet she appeared each time in the same loose toga of shale grey stone.
"I ssseeee you, Findaaahllll." the stone-hued nymph rumbled in her deep, gravelly voice. That she knew his truename had also given Muri a start when they first met. He had abandoned it the same day he fled the security of his old mentor's home. She crossed the beach to stand across the marble block from Muri, never leaving a print in the sand despite her obvious mass and ponderous step. Without preamble she sat. Despite her look, which was all stone, with stunningly blue sapphire eyes, she did not grind as she moved, as one may have expected. Her odd grey clothing shifted slowly, just like any other garment might, pooling around her knees as she sat down.
"I see you, Grimshori." Muri responded as she turned her attention to the collection he had laid upon the stone, "As ever, you look fetching." he chuckled softly. Her innate power always pulled at him, though he knew it was more a part of her nature than any artifice of her own design. Her intense blue eyes looked up at his compliment and she smiled slowly, alabaster teeth shining white between the pale limestone cream of her lips. She picked up a dark blue berry and looked at it closely. Such things, for Muri, were as commonplace as limestone and granite were to her. She never left her mountain to explore that which grew upon its flanks, so was fascinated and pleased that the skunk she had found living within her mountain was kind enough to bring them to her. "Blueberry." Muri offered, "The grow in thick bushes in the late spring season. Quite flavorful."
The mountain nymph's gaze shifted slowly from berry to him, then back as she sat it back down. Muri had seen her magic, and knew that now that berry would never again age, nor spoil. She had, in essence, petrified it with a mere glance, so that she might admire it for millennia to come. He had to suppress an internal shudder at the idea that she might one day wish to see him just as she saw that berry. She picked up a slender, very intricate leaf from one of the forest maples.
Muri curled his lush, monochromatic tail around his legs as he explained each of the items to her, none the same as those items he had brought before. Each time he found a new thing on the mountain he made sure to set several samples aside to show his earthen friend. Plants and insects were the most attractive to her curiosity, as they did not often last very long after death to become preserved in the strata of her mountain as animal bones could.
During her examination of a tri-horned beetle she set something of her own upon the slab, a large chunk of pearlescent grey stone with a faint blue iridescence to it, just like the shell of the beetle. Muri picked it up as he explained the beetle to her, though he did not know the real name of it. The massive beetle was as large as his own hand, its head adorned with three massive horns. Those horns were used to battle off rival males, and to spear the rodents it stalked as prey.
"Opaaaalll." Grim rumbled as he picked up the stone, her keen interest not wavering from the beetle, which was but a few hours dead, "Pressssed haaaard by the weight of Shooorrri." Her actual name, when she expressed her existence in the way of 'self' was merely Grim, to which she appended the name of her mountain, Shori. Muri turned the stone this way and that in his hands, feeling the dense weight of it. He knew of opal, from his studies under Heiorn, and understood it to be a soft stone.
The heavy piece in his hand was anything but soft or fragile. Crushed to an amazing density by the weight of the mountain, it had become as solid as any marble, and many times as strong. As the nymph set aside the beetle and took up the fragile skull of a hunting bird, Muri turned his attention into the stone, reaching inward to take hold of the very rigidly ordered energies he had brought with him. Focusing on the stone, he pushed the energy into it, forcing the resistant stone to fill with his power, attuning itself to him so that he could shape it.
"Shrevehawk." he whispered as he came out of his concentration, having invested a huge portion of his personal magics into the stone, "A gliding hunter of the skies, it moves up from the south during the spring months." he laid the stone upon the slab, one hand resting upon it. Grimshori set the skull down and reached across to lay her large hand over his own with deceptive lightness. "It feeds on small rodents and sometimes other birds." He felt the power within the huge node around him surge like a pot suddenly brought to boil, racing through his hand from hers to join his power within the stone, rendering it suddenly the consistency of dense clay. Her eyes held his the entire time, warm and gentle in their timeless wisdom and power.
"Sooooo, my Findaahhlll... what stooorie have you?" she rumbled, her fingers brushing lightly at the back of his hand before drawing away. Muri knew he had but a single day to shape the heavy stone before her magic faded, leaving it locked forever in the form he worked it into. Any haste in its working would leave flaws in it that would cause it to break, as his previous work had after only a month.
After being used to slay some eleven giants.
"A story of ancient Sathmore legend." he smiled at her as he drew the stone close and began shaping it with his fingers. Sculpting had never been his strongest talent as a youth, though he had been made to fashion pots and mugs for Heiorn as a lesson in crafting. It was amazing how, learning to fashion with his hands, he had also learned to fashion with his mind the magics that would see him through life. "Since the days before there truly was a Sathmore, or even much to the southern lands besides a few widely scattered tribes. The legend of Damerkan, and the Spear."
The mountain nymph slowly sat back upon her heels, watching him with those glimmering sapphire eyes as he turned his attention to the stone that was beginning to loose its former shape under his fingers. "You see, in ancient days, there was a powerful kingdom along the shores of the great sea, which traded the riches of the northland to those across the sea. A chancellor of the great and wise king during the heights of that kingdom, by the name of Damerkan, went with the trading vessels across the sea to the southern continent."
Muri's voice softened, taking on a smooth, rolling tenor of a practiced storyteller. He had lost his baritone in the change that made skunk from man, but he had not lost his ability to tell a story. History had been a fascination to him, and he had learned rapidly and compulsively all of the ancient legends he could find.
His hands carefully began to make the general shape of the pick head, shaving away unneeded chunks of shimmering blue-grey stone as he worked, "Such that it was that during his expeditions into the furthest southern reaches, he was invited to the feast of another great king. In his office as chancellor, he was often given a seat close to the highest nobles of the land. In this instance he sat between high clerist and high mage of that land, only three seats to the right of the king." The telling of the story was much more involved than that, of course, for Muri had to detail all of those present at the meal that evening, and their political ambitions, many in favor of the visiting chancellor of trade, and many against. As it was, the king was not wholly in favor of trade with the ancient northland kingdom, of which he had heard little. In his mind, it was growing bloated and complacent in its age and power.
As the story wove itself, the smooth lines of the tool head began to take shape under his skilled hands, with a broad spade at the back and a long, tapering point at the fore. The tooling left a small pile of leavings to one side, which Muri would make use of later. "Damerkan, more than a little into his cups as the meal progressed, was bragging quite effusively about the power and majesty of his king and the lands under his purview. Many at the king's table listened closely to his words, the high clerist with a scowl at the strange and hedonistic worship of the northerners, the high mage with a gleam in his eyes at the rare components he would be able to purchase. The king merely listened.
"Damerkan lauded that his was the kingdom of ages, that was secure in its power and would never fall to the predations from the north. Strange creatures lived in the open plains and forests between the kingdom's borders and the far northern mountains. Their tribes were few and far separated, warring whenever they encountered one another, so the security of his powerful kingdom was assured for another thousand cycles around the great fiery orb drawn by the sailors of the sky." Muri continued his narrative as he took up the haft of his previous pick, the only other item he had brought with him besides the collection he offered the nymph, and worked it into the opening he had formed from the center of the stone. Using scrapped bits of stone, he secured it in place with a weave of stone above and below the head. Once the nymphs magic had bled away and left the stone solid once more he would put a wedge into the head of the handle to secure it firmly in place.
Laying it down upon the marble block, he took the jade and steel knife Kel had given him and began working a series of runes into the side of the stone blade. Runes of strength, power, and earth. They would fix the magics he invested into the stone, making the future castings of earth rending spells less expensive as far as power went, and stronger.
"The king turned to Damerkan then, as he bragged about the lasting reign of his powerful and secure kingdom, 'Are you saying, chancellor, that you are so secure that nothing ever threatens your hold upon the northland?' The high clerist scoffed at this idea, and the mage merely shrugged. 'I do.' said the somewhat inebriated chancellor with a broad smile. At his assurance, the king pointed above the man's head.
"Looking up, Damerkan was confronted by the sight of a massive hunting spear hanging in the air a few inches above his brow, the gleaming steel point facing downward. Holding the spear suspended above him was but one single silver thread. 'Such is the idea of security, chancellor, that you never know how tenuous it is.' the king intoned with sage wisdom, 'The spear hangs over the heads of every man, of every kingdom, revealing that, with a mere breath, a person's security might forever be dashed as the spear falls.' Damerkan could only stare in horror as the mage and clerist smiled in a single agreement. A single silver thread was not such a powerful assurance of power indeed."
Muri set aside the finished pick head and took up the smaller bits of discarded stone, working them into points for arrows between finger and thumb, "I was like that ancient chancellor." he admitted as he looked back up to the silent nymph, who sat as unmoving as a statue, "I was assured in the security I had with Heiorn, that nothing would ever shatter my life again." he glanced down long enough to carve tiny runes into the soft stone with the tip of his new blade, "But something severed that silver thread." he waved a hand at his current appearance, that of a skunk, "The magic of war, which hung over my head like that spear, only to fall when my age was such that the silver thread was broken." He set aside the last arrowhead and rubbed his eyes, which had become strained in his concentration upon his work. "I was my mentor's favorite, and most apt pupil, destined for great things of one sort or another." he sat back on his heels and sighed, a wry smile turning the corner of his muzzle, "I guess not."
"A wiisssse stooory, Kindaahhl." the nymph said gently, her voice for a moment silken soft and very alluring as she gave him her alabaster smile once again, "It haaasss meeaning, to youu." she reached across the stone to pat his shoulder with one broad, gentle hand, "Youu wiiilll knooww greatnesss one daay, in yourr ownn way."
Muri reached up and laid his hand over hers upon his shoulder, "Would that I were not alone when I did, gentle Grimshori." he mused, shifting to work a cramp from his leg. He had been kneeling there working for the better part of a day. As ever, the time fled swiftly when he worked, and wove his memories and history into a story.
"Youu arrree not now." she whispered as she stood in one smooth motion, turning in profile as she made to leave, "Nor everrrr willl be." she turned her back and walked to the wall opposite from where Muri remained kneeling, and moved into the stone without slowing. Muri knelt there, staring at the spot where she vanished for several long minutes, then sighed, gathering up his new possessions, and made his way back up to his own residence.