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Balon slammed his fist onto the black sand beside him. The screams couldn’t possibly be real, he thought, not in this place so far from home. The haunting sounds that tormented him were surely nothing more than the phantom noises brought on by solitude, that strange partner on his long journey that had often played tricks on his mind. Searching for his exiled father had been a long and fruitless pursuit, and the stresses of surviving so far from home had taken their toll on him. He ran shaking fingers anxiously back and forth across his cracked lips, following the pace of his troubled thoughts.

The night sky was lit by twin moons that reflected on the calm surface of the sea before him. Balon hugged his knees close to his chest beside the warm glow of a dying campfire. His eyes followed the rhythmic motion of buoyant mounds of living matter that were part of the sprawling sea entity his people called the Kaibai Mega. With a glistening sheen they bobbed up and down along the shallow water near the coastline. With distance the dark shapes increased in number until they formed a gigantic continuous floating mass far from shore.

Balon looked up at the moon named Mar, brother to Vida in the night sky. Twenty-four days had passed and it was full again, just as it had been when he had left the village of Thallsen, home to his people, the Jana. He sighed inwardly. The last several days had been a series of disappointments. He had found the sooty and carefully arranged ring of rocks he now used as his campfire only the morning before last. Someone had built the long-abandoned campfire and the discovery had provided Balon with hope that he was finally getting close to finding surviving Jana exiles.

What he had found instead, farther along the beach and half-buried in the sand, now lay next to his feet. A grinning bleached skull stared back up at him from its empty sockets. It was strangely sloped and elongated, with sharp canines and thick teeth. If it had ever belonged to one of the more unusual-looking Jana back home, Balon could not guess who. The skull seemed to taunt him with its toothy smile. Balon kicked at a mound of sand beside it and exhaled sharply.

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