« In the beginning », the intro short story of the Songs of Loss

Thanks to the work of Alain Coubard, who is currently translating the entire role-play game, here is the introduction to the World of Loss Book. Have a good reading!

In the beginning

– Well, so you are a shaman…

It was difficult to determine who was peering at the other one ; the man who had just spoken with a tough and confident tone, a piercing gaze in a feline face surrounded by dark hair, or the woman sitting on pelts in front of him, her eyes lost in a maze of dark rings and wrinkles as witnesses of the age that had sculpted her traits into crow-like features.

The elderly lady seemed to enjoy the silence for some time, during this wordless exchange, while all the sounds that were heard in the night were produced by some eerie birds and the light crackling of the embers which brought some gloom into the fabric hut. Her faded blue eyes, deep inside their sockets, were moving at a jerky rhythm as she was weighing the tough guy wearing a traveller’s outfit which was simple in appearance, but whose price could have been that of dozens of pleasure slaves. She finally made up her mind and her voice, as a reflection of her face, croaked :

– And you, you are a Singer of Loss.

The man raised an eyebrow before giving a hint of an almost invisible smile. It had taken a short instant for the woman in front of him to please him :

– How can you affirm that, Sohora ?

The old lady answered with an eerie laugh :

– And you, Jawaad, the merchant lord, how can you say I am a shaman, huh ? Do you even know what it means?

–  A question for a question, Jawaad remarked with a neutral tone. Is this really what you want ?

The aged lady showed one of the pelts in front of her as an invitation to sit :

– Is it not the way a conversation is supposed to start ?


* * *


At the top of the wooden ridge which was hiding the small garden and the stilts surrounded with fish traps where the hut their boss had entered was settled from their sight, Abba and Damas were waiting. Ortentia, partially shrouded by big rain clouds, was hardly lighting the obscurity. Abba, though he was an impressive powerful black giant from the fringes , was not fond of the night. Actually, he had a supertitious fear of it, mostly because he was lost in the depths of the swamps of the Argas. And the nonchalance of his colleague, who was drawing on his pipe while sitting on a rotting log, his hand above the fire to hide its weak glowing sparkle, was all the more getting on his nerves. He had little knowledge of Damas as Jawaad had hired him just a few months earlier. He was a slender and not very tall man with a long black tousled  hair and a craggy face who seemed to look at eveything  wryly. He would never confirm the rumors that he was a Jemmaï, and he was right not to do so. He did not talk much either, except for some cynical or mocking remark.

The giant was standing, his crossbow on the shoulder. He preferred this weapon, even though it was heavy, to the noisy rifle his partner was fond of. Pacing on the ridge, he started to grumble again:

– And you, you don’t give a toss that we are just a shot away from the house of a sorcerer, in a cursed swamp on a night when demons could come dance with the living !?

Damas looked up, showing a smile that was not really hiding he was trying not to laugh at the question :

– That sounds like a hell of a lot of bad omens, huh?

Abba growled in response.  Even if he was hiding his fear with little talent, the giant had a  low and bestial voice pitch that would inspire at least hesitation to the most adventurous:

– I don’t know why Jawaad wanted to approach that bone-setter… nor why in the middle of the night, High Lords !? If he had wanted to attract bad luck upon us, he wouldn’t have done otherwise!

Now, the Jemmai burst into laughter without being able to hold it:

– There’s more than enough demons under the sky, walking on two legs, drinking wine and craving for gold and women, so I don’t need to waste my time believing there are other ones, coming from the depths underground! I have seen the rift closely, where the Church forbids eveybody to penetrate. And guess what? There was not a single black-skinned-red-eyed-demon-that-breathes-fire-and-ashes. Not even a trace of one in the darkest night. Nothing but a desolated and deadly land that wants to kill anything that dares venturing there.

Damas’ tirade managed to stop the giant, who stared at his partner, not hiding his surprise:

– So you can talk !? Just because you say it doesn’t mean I will believe it, but I had come to the conslusion that you were just as talkative as Jawaad and that I would have to learn to do the talkin g alone while we are travelling. I have to say that I am…

– Wait!

The giant frowned and looked towards the bottom of the valley, on the other side of the sorceress’ hut:

– The birds… those bloody birds are not cawing anymore !?

Damas pushed the bowl of his pipe into the soft ground with his foot and stood up like a crouching feline, holding his long precision rifle tightly. He immediately whispered:

– Because something has disturbed them. Something that wants to be descrete and didn’t manage to… something threatening…

Immediately, the black giant turned pale  and whispered with a frog in his throat:

– Demons?

Damas shook his head and showed the river bank below. It took exceptional eyes to see through the night at that distance. Like many Jemmai, he had that ability. Only the darkest night could bother him:

– Not demons. Dogs and men. Searching.


* * *


Jawaad accepted the wooden glass the old lady had offered him, sniffing the content before drinking it. It was a sweet brew which, with a lot of imagination, could be taken for a scented tea. But an offered drink was not to be refused and it was not alcohol, the exception with which the merchant lord never made a compromise: he did not drink any. He stared at the shaman and nodded his head. It was her turn to start; she looked amused at this and added a bundle of firewood into the fire that  slowly rekindled:

– All the shamans are able to know this, Jawaad. Like all the Singers, you are vibrating. You all vibrate. From a distance, in the dull ocean of the Lossean souls, you glow like small paper lanterns floating on the water, swept by the wind. We can only notice you.

– How?

The old lady showed a toothless smile:

– You wouldn’t tell your secrets so easily, would you? It’s your turn… what do you want from a shaman, you who think you know what we are?

– You have understood, with a single look, something that is known by only three people under the sky. Why I’m looking for you shouldn’t be that difficult to get, right?

The old lady smiled again and nodded. He had made a good point with his answer, and she played the game:

– You are dying. Your Ambrose is talking to me; it is yearning to rest, it is tired of fighting endlessly against the cancer which is eating you away. It has been living much longer than allowed by the rules of life. Is this the reason, then? Yet, there are very good physicians who are able to cure men as well as symbionts. You are old, even much older than I am. Rich and powerful as you are, you will finally die, just like everybody.

– I still have things to do which cannot be postponed. I will not give them up and I will not let time impose me its law. I know that, and you have proved that, you, shamans, understand the symbionts better than anybody

– Are you afraid of dying, then?

Jawaad showed a hint of a smile, raising his dark eyes for an instant towards the ageless woman. The fire was changing the appearance of her lines into that of crumpled parchment.

– This question is pointless. Asking it is useless. If my symbiont is speaking to you, it has told you what has given it its exceptional life expectancy, what I have taken advantage of, but what is coming to an end…

Sohora frowned and looked up and down at the merchant with more insistence after his remark, her eyes moving with attention. A long silent moment passed before she showed a doubtful pout, moving a trembling finger crippled with arthritis towards the merchant’s chest:

– What is your locket, whose power has changed so dramatically the nature of your symbiont of longevity?

– An ancient artefact. It was made long prior to the Long Winter. And it has already extended the life of many bearers. All my ancestors.

– But its strength is decreasing. And with it, your hopes of living long enough to reach your goal. Is it that?

– And you can know more than me about that.

– How can you be so sure of that? A wise and learned artefact hunter would be of better advice than a shaman, don’t you think?

– I have gone through this path, old woman. I have learnt everything that could be learnt…

– And you have found no answer, I understand that. This thing made of Loss-cristal, at your neck, which vibrates in tune with the Song of Loss that lives within you, goes beyond Lossean understanding. So the solution, improbable as it can be, is obviously…

– An Earthling…

Sohora looked at the merchant lord, the gaze they exchanged meant a lot to them but a third party would have had the greatest difficulty to interpret anything. In the night, it took some time for the woman to break the silence:

– You shall look for a female Earthling: a Singer of Loss who will have to be powerful and strong enough for you locket to vibrate in unison with her. Choose a docile one, take her soul and harness her will. Then, let her Terran logic find the solution you would never think about.

– Why a woman?

– Because women are always stronger, of course!

Jawaad’s only response was an illegible smile.


* * *


– Jawaad!

The merchant lord pushed the tent of the hut to appear in the night. Given the tone Abba had used to call him, there was no doubt it was an emergency. His two aides were facing him, still out of breath and weapons drawn. Damas gave an explanation without waiting for an order:

– Ten men. As many dogs and two war griffin riders. They’ve followed our track, but they’re coming for her.

– That makes a lot; they are already coming up the ridge

Jawaad looked back to check the hut for an instant, before coming back to his men. His look grew darker until it seemed as if he had been drawing its darkness from the night itself. Taking a deep breath, he had an almost inaudible long growling sound coming out of his throat. Everything he was wearing that contained metal started to yield a faint blue glow:

– She has given me all the answers I expected; so let us pay my debt. No survivors…

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