Father Thunder held court for the occurring storm in the gigantic thunderhead cloud. His ascendant form was a hawk-headed giant sitting upon a blue-gold throne. The excitement of the coming race caused the god to leak hints of his other great forms (especially the Thunderbird) out into the massive cumulonimbus thereby causing quite a commotion in his court. The world below was already huddled in terror praying that the storm pass quickly.
The Nimhir, Father Thunder’s lightning spirits, were gathered in front of the throne. Some wore the forms of courtesans fashioned with period clothing. The clothing itself was adorned with peacock feathers that glowed with static electricity – the current fashion of this spirit court. Other less refined Nimhir with little power to retain multiple forms were lashing electrical storms barely outlining a humanoid figure. The rest of the spirit court stayed safely in the wings of the great room concentrating on their part of the storm below.
Azani wore the form of an African-goddess, track star (believe me, avid reader, it could be pulled off in this chaotic spirit court). Her shoes were pure white and left blurred trails when she moved her feet. Azani’s skin was steel black, bound sometimes by shifting blue clothing. The most striking feature of her form was her hair: braided dreadlocks with thousands of platinum rings tinkling every time she moved her head. Each ring denoted a victory for the races Father Thunder held regularly.
Rau, Azani’s only true competitor, wore a form to mock Azani: an African male wearing only a ragged loincloth with thick, platinum nails puncturing his body. Each nail represented a victory for Rau, but there were less of the nails than Azani’s rings. The mockery was complete with the inclusion of hundreds of static spirits, of the lowliest mote rank, constantly hammering the nails through Rau’s body. The whole of the court understood this affront was directed directly at Azani, but she ignored the insult.
Father Thunder sent his messenger, Dibala, down to the earth below to proclaim the race (Dibala, in ages past, was one of the Nimhir, but his victories were so great that Father Thunder raised Dibala to a greater spirit rank). The power of Dibala’s proclamation caused all of the spirits of electricity bound to the ground to still in anticipation (causing one of the most widespread blackouts ever recorded for that city). Every other thing hid in fear; although the races were a beautiful thing to watch, they were also very destructive.
With a flick of his taloned hand, Father Thunder called forth his staff, Wakiya. The court grew quiet knowing that in mere seconds the race would begin. The ancient god roared his decree and slammed Wakiya into the ground turning the area in front of his throne from marble tile to translucent cloud.
At first the Nimhir fell as if unprepared, but actually, this showing was another insult to the competition. A lightning spirit who stayed in his or her court form longest but also won the race was considered a great victor and received greater prizes form the storm god. Azani and Rau stayed in their prior forms the longest staring each other down as the other Nimhir shifted into bolts of pure energy and raced past them. Finally both of the great Nimhir blinked and shifted into screaming blue arrows of light racing after their brothers and sisters.
The first part of the contest was a form of brutal tag. A Nimhir could grab the essence of a fellow racer and use the power for their own, sending the other now-exhausted Nimhir back to the spirit court. This part was not simply a game of touch but rather a battering, and eventual crushing, of wills. The only way a Nimhir could guarantee not being party of the game was to stray far off from the straight racetrack. Few straying Nimhir had enough of their own essence to reach the ground in such a way.
Azani and Rau shifted the slightest degree away from one another; it was a waste of one’s own essence to battle an equal. The speed at which they overtook the other Nimhir was frightening, and before many got a few hundred lengths away from the thunderhead, their energy was already consumed. A few of the Nimhir felt the approaching champions and veered off the track, never to touch the ground. And, again it was Azani alone with Rau.
The first part being over, the second part is to stay on the track, all the remaining competitors in a straight line, and use the expanded essence to rush to the ground. The best way, both knew, was to jump from raindrop to raindrop before slamming into the object on the ground. Azani’s raindrop dance method was slower than Rau’s. She would thank each raindrop spirit as she bounded off of them hoping they would give her some of their negligible essence to boost her speed. In stark contrast, Rau would rip the essence from the little motes and burn it up for more speed as they dissipated into nothingness. Azani always hated hearing the motes’ screams as they rushed toward the ground – the raindrop’s dreams of the ocean being obliviated to nothingess. The only reason Azani was able to keep just behind Rau was because after the first thousand raindrops, they tried to help her and also keep away from Rau.
Flashing down to earth, they found the target, a lonely, old oak in the middle of a city park. Rau was first to reach its branches and blazed all of his remaining essence to burn through the resistive oak. Azani was second and immediately contacted the oak spirit, having to skirt more slowly around the battle between Rau and the tree.
“Heart of Oak,” Azani bowed, “please stop Rau’s descent.”
“Little spirit,” the oak spirit replied, anger mixed with the sound of burning leaves, “I would prefer his descent be quick. His damage to me has already been great.”
Azani could feel the great spirit faltering away as it concentrated on mitigating the damage caused by Rau, feeding him to tree limbs and bark that would not kill the tree.
Before the disconnection, Azani shouted, “I offer this ring. Forged by Father Thunder, it contains the epic saga of his adoration for the Sister Rains. After my seventh win it was bestowed upon me. I offer it now.”
There was a pause in the race as Rau stopped his battle to the ground to stare at his sister. Never before had a Nimhir used anything but essence for the race. It had never been won with an oath.
The old oak, far more skilled in spirit battle than Rau, the racer, expertly feinted to bring Rau directly into the center of the tree. Azani, being concurrently guided by the oak, circled to the ground burning spiral streaks outside of the oak’s skin. The light was blinding as the great oak split in two from the rush of essence that Rau gave off to try and escape. The vengeful oak tore at the trapped Nimhir, and caught flame as Rau dissipated (it would be quite awhile before he could cross the shadow again).
Azani placed the platinum ring where the oak had split and felt herself returning back to Father Thunder’s court.
Father Thunder bellowed her name as she arrived and it rang out across the horizon. She was the victor, and had ensured she would be for quite some time with Rau recovering in the spirit world. He smiled and gave her another ring as he proclaimed her victory to the spirit court. She saw sadness and relief in the face of the god at the loss of his memory of the failed courtship, but it was her gift to give.
Years later a sheep herder felled the dead oak, it had not wanted to persist holding the tale of such sadness. As the tree landed the young man saw the ring, and used it to marry a daughter of a tailor in town. The magic, by then, was gone but the wife cried every time a storm came. Their lives were, however, long and happy.