“We are one. We cannot be shattered.”
Skarner is an immense crystalline scorpion from a hidden valley in Shurima. Part of the ancient Brackern race, Skarner and his kin are known for their great wisdom and deep connection to the land, as their souls are fused with powerful life crystals which hold the living thoughts and memories of their ancestors. In an age long past, the Brackern entered hibernation to avoid untold magical destruction, but recent, threatening events have roused Skarner. As the only Brackern awake, he strives to protect his kind from those who seek to harm them.
Long before men traversed the scorched deserts of Shurima, the very sand itself shone with primal, unchained magic. In a remote valley surrounded by steep cliffs and jagged rock formations, the age-old race of Brackern unearthed raw crystals from deep within the sand. Each of these noble creatures fused with a single stone, which retained their consciousness long after their death.
The demise of a Brackern was a rare occurrence, as their worldly lives stretched across millennia, but even death did not signify an ending. When a creature’s mortal form perished, its life stone was buried in the valley for safekeeping until a new Brackern could uncover it. This practice protected the vulnerable crystals while preserving the wisdom of the ones who came before.
With a finite number of stones, the young Brackern searched for the crystal meant for them, just as the consciousness within the stone beckoned to the Brackern it had chosen to inherit its magic and memories. In a sacred rite, the rock fused with crystalline flesh, imbuing the creature’s mind with memories and knowledge and flooding them with primal magic. A Brackern without a crystal would not long survive, for they lacked the strength, longevity, and power instilled by the stones.
The young creature named Skarner spent many years searching for the crystal meant for him. Afraid he would die before finding it, he grew more persistent in his search with each passing moon. Day and night, he delved deep into the ground, digging in a methodical pattern that covered the entire valley and neighboring hills with intricate spirals.
Skarner had all but given up when he finally felt an ancient consciousness tugging at his mind. He burrowed down, venturing ever deeper until the world’s heart warmed his shell. Days passed, but the consciousness grew ever more insistent as it urged him onward. Skarner’s pincers closed on a well-worn stone, and he heard a rasping whisper at the back of his mind. Though the voice was faint, he already felt intimately connected to its awareness, and he knew he had found his stone.
The crystal was larger than any he had seen, and so timeworn that its glow had faded to a soft glimmer. Its surface was cracked in several places and dulled from eons buried under the ground. Skarner examined the rock with the tenderest touch, afraid of further damaging something so ancient. The dim glow within pulsed as though breathing in response to Skarner’s presence.
Skarner began the bonding ritual, burying himself deep underground with the crystal for weeks without sustenance. Though he ached with fatigue and his limbs atrophied in starvation, he was not afraid, for the voice within the stone comforted him. When the crystal finally fused with his body, he was overwhelmed with emotion as ancient memories and wisdom permeated his thoughts. He witnessed moments of incredible joy and crushing sorrow from generations long deceased. He felt magic all around him, suffusing his body with a deep connection to the world through a low constant hum, and sensed his kind communicating in a wordless meeting of minds.
When the cataclysmic forces of the Rune Wars began to devastate the world, the Brackern feared the turmoil would soon mark the end of their species. They resolved to hide in hibernation until humans wiped themselves out, as it seemed certain they would. Only then would it be safe to emerge from the sands once more.
The crystalline scorpions buried themselves deep in the Shuriman desert with the youngest and most ferocious positioned closest to the surface, ready to awaken first and defend the others in case of danger. The strength Skarner gained from his ancient life stone made him more powerful than almost all of his kin, so he was one of the last of his kind to enter the long slumber.
They slept in peaceful isolation as centuries passed before Skarner awoke from his shallow burrow in a panic. Deafening explosions shattered the ground, targeting the Brackern where they lay sleeping and stunning those closest to the surface. A band of robbers had discovered the dormant creatures and were prying crystals from crystalline flesh. Skarner, protected from the brunt of the attack by his crystal, erupted from the sand in a terrible frenzy of sharp pincers and poisonous stabs. Though their numbers all but overwhelmed him, he killed many of the thieves, and the rest fled in terror. Skarner was horrified to learn he was the only one awake, and that many of his people’s crystals had already been stolen.
Skarner tried to revive his dormant companions, but the men had broken so many life stones in their thoughtless theft that several Brackern with damaged crystals died moments after Skarner woke them, while others would not wake at all. For weeks Skarner paced the sand above his sleeping brethren in sorrowful mourning. He was certain the crystals would quickly perish in the hands of men, and mourned their loss too.
Yet as the sun broke over the horizon many weeks later, Skarner heard distant echoes calling in his mind. The cries were faint, but rang clear over the land. These voices of the lost stones reached out to him in terror, imploring Skarner to reconnect them with their kind. Skarner hesitated, torn as to whether he should rescue the lost crystals or continue guarding the still-living Brackern. After weeks spent erasing all traces of the excavation, he could not stand to hear the minds of his kin suffering at the hands of the violent humans, and resolved to set out to save the missing crystals.
Skarner began the arduous task of tracking the stones, hoping no others would discover his kin beneath the sand. Though his search is lonely, he occasionally hears a lost crystal calling to him, a feeling that brings joy and anguish in equal measure. He focuses his sorrow into unshakable determination, and refuses to rest until he has recovered every last life stone.
The softskins broke our slumber of a thousand spins.
For many long ages, I sensed the world’s dizzying movement. Stars exploded and died above me, though I did not see them. I felt the warmth of the sun flood the sand with life.
When my heartpulse slowed and I curled in the dry sand to warm my body for longsleep, I thought my time below would be lonely, that the earth would not respond to my touch. But all around me were kin. I sensed them rustling in their slumber. I listened to their silent murmurs reaching for my mind. I heard their dreamsongs of worlds upon worlds. A place without softskins, without fear or pain or doubt. A place of great peace.
In the sand, we were all connected; we dreamed as one. Not just the singers, but all living things; the worms curling around smooth rockgrains, the molerats burrowing tunnels to birth their young, even a family of fur-soft spiderlings who rested for a night in the deepdark.
I thought the rocks would be immobile, cold, uncaring. But they, too, were part of us. The stones were warm, and the deeper we burrowed, the closer we got to this world’s wombfire. Each time the underground boiled in rage, I was there; its tremors shook the sand until I sang back with my own anger. We are one, we are all. Your anger is as mine. I heard its gratitude in the raintime when wet drops soaked the sand and the earth grew fat and full.
When the softskins came, the ground knew only pain. Our songs became cries as we were torn and broken and scattered. I heard the sorrowsong as the softskins unearthed my kin. They tore crystal namestones from our bodies as we screamed, louder than earthshakes, and stole them away. I sang long into the many nights, sang until my heart was empty and cold, but they did not return.
Today, I am alone in the aboveplace. Today, the dry wind burns my skin. With every step, the sand grinds against me in protest. I fight my urge to bury myself down, down, to go inside the earth’s deepdark. I am not apart. I am part of the one, not beyond.
From far away, a song of painfear reaches me. The tone is faint, but I recognize the melody, and I send out a song of my sorrow. A note of hope rings back in my mind, clear and fine. Almost, almost.
Another set of stars whirl overhead, and again. The endlessly blinking universe stares down at me. I feel moltenheavy with the weight of above. I should be down, but I am here, alone in the cold air.
I have been above for three moons. A blink of an eye, a sliver of existence. A warming murmur passes silently underground — yet in the aboveplace, I feel the eternity of alone.
Ahead, I hear softskins. They do not sing, they shout. Their tones scratch and clash without melody or cohesion. They burn meatflesh over a falsefire. Its fat smokes the air and I choke on the stench. Why would they do such a thing? The ground is plenty, plenty for all.
The melody calls to me weakly. Almost. The namestone is close.
I must explain; the softskins do not understand. Their race is but three turns young; they have only begun to dig; they have barely uncoiled the beginnings of underneath. They speak, but I have not yet heard them sing. They will learn.
I sing in their minds a song of the calmland, so they feel the great beauty that awaits us when we sleep. I sing for my dead kin, so they know what they stole.
The softskins do not sing back. They do not seem to hear me so my voice grows louder in their heads. I sing for our namestones, wrongfully taken. Bring them back, they are ours. You murdered one cluster already. Do not deny our future also. I sing a plea. Let me carry the crystals to the deepdark, so they can bind with us again. I sing to heal this tearing wound.
The softskins are still shouting to each other. One of them releases a rhythmic sound… a laugh? I feel as though my body is being crushed by the air, so I burrow. I am comforted by the weight around me.
How can they not see the ruin they’ve caused? You are heartless, you are crude. How could you sever us like this?
My husk glows skywhite with rage. I will not let these softskins destroy us.
I hear them scream as I erupt from the sand. I summon energy from the ground and store the power in my namestone. A softskin throws a splinterblade and it hits my leg, shattering on my lucent shell. You sing only death. I, too, can sing this song. I release sunbright energy and sharp crystals burst from the ground, impaling flesh and cracking spines.
The falsefire spreads in their panic. Their crude structures of twig and hide burn through the darkness, carrying softskins into the flames. Smoke rises in an offering to the blinking stars. Softskins run from the chaos, but I am faster. I circle around them and lash out at a straggler, slicing his middle apart with my claw. I crush another underfoot. Lifeblood stains the sand. I roar in grief, not a song but a cry. Your blood is not worthy to touch the one and the all.
My tail lashes left and right and I knock the softskins down. I summon the sunbright once again, and more crystals spike from the sand to pierce flesh. So you can hear my song, after all...
I am crude like them. I am violence. I am death.
When I dream I see only rage. I am no longer worthy of the deepdark. But I cannot stop.
Only one remains. The softskin fumbles with a glowing thing of wood and metal. She means to kill me. A false sun blazes from the thing and punctures my hardshell, burning my insides. The light reflects inside my crystal, paralyzing me. I stagger in agonizing pain. I cannot move. I am broken. I am ended.
A fading song rings in my mind. Almost, almost. We are one.
She aims her weapon again and I shake with horror as I see the paling namestone strapped to it. Her weapon drains our life energy. They are wasting crystals to power their terrible song. I feeI I will burst in fury and pain, but instead I pull strength from the ground. I cry out and lash with my sting, impaling the softskin as she writhes like a worm. I grasp the weapon and crush it with a claw. It crumbles to dust, leaving only the skywhite namestone.
I hold the crystal in my mouth where it will be safe. I am here, we are one.
I curl my stinger and she falls. Do not return. Do not take our namestones. We are not yours. We are all. We belong only to the deepdark.
I leave her alive and she runs. She lives not with my mercy, but because I know she has heard my dreamsong, and she has no choice but to sing.