People are strong. That’s something I’ve come to realize, over the years. I used to believe the opposite. I thought that, compared to the Wizard and his monsters, that we were all pathetic and worthless. Weak. I thought that we — that my people, that people in general — cowered in fear of the Wizard and his abominations, knowing we could never be strong enough to bring him down.
We might never be, but that doesn’t mean we’re weak. There are different kinds of strength. It takes strength to persevere. It takes strength to build walls, and to rebuild them, knowing that if the wrong monster comes along they will be taken down again as easily as though they were made of paper.
It takes strength to face the monsters, who are stronger than us, and more vicious. It takes bravery to fight them, knowing that, when we are forced against them head-on, some of us will fall.
It takes strength to maintain the will to survive, when at any moment, all could be lost, whether it be due to a simple mistake, or because the wrong monster happened upon us, or because the Wizard, upon a whim, decided to destroy us. We maintain it anyway. We live, because we are strong, and brave, and, I like to think, because we are clever.
It was my grandfather who first discovered the chimes. I never got to hear him talk about it, because I was so young when he passed. I wish I could hear him describe how he figured it out. My father’s descriptions are insufficient.
“How did grandfather figure this out?” I would say, when Father was training me to make the chimes myself.
“By accident,” he would answer.
You don’t make discoveries like the chimes by accident. Well, perhaps the very first incarnation of them, yes. I could see that. But to bring them to where they are now, and the use they have now, would take years of trial and error and genuine, dedicated effort.
I know because I’ve been undergoing this process myself. My grandfather began it, and my father, at least, learned what my grandfather taught him. I have made it my goal to refine the chimes and improve them. Right now, they’re the only defense we have against the monsters other than bows and swords. If we can improve them, we’ll stand more of a chance.
My grandfather designed the chimes and the flutes we keep on the village walls. They both give out the same tone. It has little effect on people, or even animals. To me, it’s actually pleasant. When the wind blows, the sound of the flutes spreads outward from the wall, filling the town with its pitch. The flutes make the monsters uncomfortable, and less likely to approach, but the chimes are more effective. When struck, they drive some of the weaker-willed monsters away entirely. The loud peal of the chimes strikes them like a blow.
My father was content with those chimes. He is the town’s primary blacksmith. He learned to make the turning-chimes and flutes and contented himself with that. He told me he was busy enough with everything else the town needed from him. He didn’t have the time to try to innovate. He replaced the chimes on the walls if they broke or failed, and he made handheld versions for travelers, but that was all.
When he taught me to forge the chimes, I knew I had to make more of them. Driving the weaker monsters away and making some of the stronger ones uncomfortable is great, but it’s not enough, not when compared to some of the things we might face. Not when compared to the power of the Wizard.
I started my experiments with the chimes by making many, many chimes with different pitches. Only a few of them worked. What I’ve learned is that there some very exact pitches that have to be recreated by the chimes I make in order to have any function at all. Sometimes, even if I think I’ve cast a chime or a flute perfectly to recreate the proper pitch, I’ll find that some small, undetectable flaw renders it useless.
This flaw led me to one discovery that I haven’t been able to reproduce. It’s one of my favorite creations, so I keep it safe in my home, wrapped in silk, except when I need it. It’s funny that it should be my favorite, because it doesn’t help with the monsters at all. It affects animals.
Something that happened during the casting process makes it ring with two tones at once, with a faint, third overtone that exists just at the edge of my hearing. It’s a lovely sound with a clear timbre. Animals are pleased by it. It aids in training them, and not just because they like it. Something about it helps them to understand what I want from them, if I ring it before I speak.
I’ve trained two animals this way. My blue fox, Cobalt, who I got as a pup from the woman who breeds them, and Tesehr, my raven, who I rescued after I found him in the fields with a broken wing. I think that, if I could replicate this chime, we could begin training even more animals in ways that help us. Sadly, I’ve given up on that for now. I come back to it every few years, but for now, I’ve got a more important project.
There are many kinds of monsters in the world. We fear some more than others. There are those which are horrifying to behold, but which cause us little trouble if we rally against them. There are those which are beautiful, yet terrifying to combat. There are monsters that can climb the walls and those that can tear right through them.
All of these, however, we can fight off with spears and blades and arrows. They have a physical form. They bleed when we cut them, and they die or flee when weakened. The chimes turn some away, but even those on which the chimes have little effect seem disoriented or confused by them.
The Lost Ones are the exception. Our blades have no effect on them, because they have no bodies. Our walls do not stop them, because they walk right through. Even the turning-chimes have little effect but to make a Lost One pause and, sometimes, hesitate long enough to make an escape.
The only good thing about the Lost Ones is their pattern. The follow a very specific one, which makes them easy to predict: They walk in a straight line, uncaring of who or what gets in their way. Any living thing that crosses their path perishes. The only defense we have against them is to know that they’re coming and watch the carefully.
If the lost ones came in the day, this wouldn’t be a problem. We would see them, a faint, ghostly glimmer of white in the air, like a person whose limbs don’t move as they walk, and we would merely step to one side or the other. Unfortunately, they don’t come in the day. They come at night, while we lie asleep in our beds, passing through our homes just like the night itself.
The monsters are the reason we keep watch, but the Lost Ones are the ones we watch for the hardest at night. When a watcher sees a Lost One, he or he strikes a chime. Not a turning chime, but a waking chime, which rouses the village. We are lucky a Lost One doesn’t come every night, or we would never sleep. Nevertheless, being tired is better than dying.
We have lost people to the Lost Ones several times in the past. Even in the dark, where their faint glow stands out in the cool night air, they are hard to see. It’s easy to mistake them for a shimmer of light fallen from a light cloud, or a reflection from the cielmoss. I remember the worst visit of a Lost One in our village history, because my mother died that night.
She was one of eight. Eight people, whose beds happened to be along the line the Lost One took through the village. My father said, that morning, that he dreamt of a great cold. He remembered waking, shivering, from a dream that he couldn’t get the fire of the forge to light. He turned to see my mother, to make sure she was still there. She looked like she was asleep.
He pulled the sheet further up his body and went back to sleep. The Lost One must have missed him by inches. In the morning, it was not him lying cold in the bed, but my mother and seven other people, dead in their beds from the touch of a Lost One.
Tonight will be a sleepless night for me, whether the Lost Ones come or not. As one of our only two smiths, I’m not required to be on watch, but I’ve volunteered for it. It’s the fifth time in the last month, because I’ve come up with another iteration on my design. This one, I hope, will work.
Tesehr is sitting on my shoulder, though he’s quite sleepy. He doesn’t like to be awake at night. Cobalt is curled up at my feet. They won’t be able to do anything against the Lost Ones, but they like to be with me. At least I didn’t have to train them to avoid the Lost Ones’ touch. They do it naturally.
Next to me, leaned up against the back of my chair, are my two newest chimes. They are long rods connected to handles. I can strike the together to produce two discordant tones. They look, a bit, like swords. The last iteration caused a Lost One to turn away from me and change its course, which is more than we’ve ever been able to achieve. This one, I hope, will do more.