It seemed to her mere moments since the Ghyranic torrent had begun, though on reflection as much as a fortnight might have passed, time slipping through her phantom fingers like endlessly falling snow. Days and weeks had a way of blurring together in the depths of Shyish, marked only by the dim passage of distant Hysh across an inky sky. And, ultimately, it mattered little what the day or the hour was- for them, the sands had already run out. No one who set foot on Bykaal’s surface would ever leave.
The meeting between the verdant waters of the Realm of Life and the hadal stillness of the lake gave birth to an all-encompassing fog, obscuring her view of the pinpricks of light burning and shifting along the shoreline. In a way, the shifting blackness reminded Malitheka of Ulgu, and she was surprised how the thought played a chord on desiccated heartstrings. It was Ulgu where she’d first become a woman, Ulgu, where she’d stalked the seas and hunted every sort of prey within reach- and Ulgu, where she’d died.
The fog meant that she couldn’t see any of the other spirits that swarmed and wandered across the ice, but this was all for the better- such a cruel irony for a privateer to be caught among sailors, for a toothless jaguar to be imprisoned with the lambs. More importantly, the fog meant that she couldn’t hardly see the surface of the ice, and had to rely mainly on her other senses and pure luck to pick her way gingerly across the lake surface. A ghost couldn’t really die, not here, but she could spend an even more unpleasant eternity than the last one, lost in the lake’s depths. One false step, slip through a crack in the frozen wasteland and down she would go.
As if on cue, the ice around her groaned like a dying Gargant, and what had been a hairline a moment before rent the frozen lake asunder, settling into a rugged fissure a yard or more wide and vanishing into tenebreal depths. By that point, Malitheka had already sprang nimbly aside, and she breathed a sigh of relief. The ice rarely split more than once in a long while, and never in the same section of the lake. She could remain here for a time, collect her bearings and prepare for the next leg of her endless sojourn.
And then the lake did something that she’d never seen happen in her decades immured within its confines. A second crack opened up, running roughly perpendicular to the first- she watched in astonishment as the sheet was split in four by two crossing chasms, each now too wide to risk jumping and too deep to spy out the depths of. Then the ice shook a third time, and she scrambled for balance, moving with a desperation she hadn’t felt in a long time as she pitched forwards, narrowly avoiding another crack. Behind her, a newly liberated chunk of ice the size of a Blood Bowl pitch began slowly subsiding, receding into the depths of the lake with the thunderous noise of a primordial infant’s wail.
Then that sound came again, lower and louder like the blast of a titan’s horn- and all around her cracks, first a few, then a moment later dozens, then as she ran headlong for some semblance of safety more than she could possibly count. The typhoons and tidal waves of a lifetime of piracy vanished into child’s play as the ice, uniformly solid a few moments before, disintegrated into a multitude of collapsing fragments moving each of its own volition. There was precious little purchase for her desperately scrambling feet and hands, and only the experience of long centuries kept Malitheka from being swept under by the roiling tide of frozen water.
Everything shook as yet another wave of sound blasted forth, like a Knight-Heraldor blaring directly in her ears, and the ice beneath her bulged and fell as something gargantuan moved in the depths. Her mind raced as the realization struck her- this wasn’t just the freakish ice and lake; an unfathomably massive creature was destroying the meters-thick surface with the same effort she might expend pushing open a stubborn door.
She heard the seismic note one final time, and with it the ever-present veil of fog was torn aside. Ahead, the horror of broken ice was rising like a hill- and then what was underneath came triumphantly crashing forth, and Malitheka saw that it was not earth but spectral flesh- the ghostly, bone-white body of a leviathan larger than any merely mortal creature known to the Realms. Every moment more and more of the monster breached the surface- as she watched, a single golden eye opened on the side of its head, suffused with the rage of millennia of imprisonment, fixing itself squarely on her. Malitheka froze in novel terror, and in the panicked heartbeat before the beast’s wake dragged her into the bathyal depths she understood:
Bykaal was awoken. The Ur-Whale had returned.