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Winter Ship

by Sarah Ann Watts

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Chapter 21: Kota Samur

part 2

Lorcan looks up and, for a moment, I think he is going to speak, but Daan interrupts. ‘You slept for a hundred years.’

I don’t believe him, least of all when I see his smile.

‘I’ve heard the Old Tales too, Daan. Maybe you elementals are immortal, but all that lives must die. The Winter Ship is frozen in time. All I found when I left the ship was a wasteland. This land has been dead for centuries, since the cataclysm. There is no Kota Samur, and the cave I found is the ruins of a dead civilisation.’

Lorcan speaks and this time no one interrupts him. ‘I’m sorry, Kyran. You are right. Kota Samur perished in flame five millennia ago. It was destroyed in the cataclysm wars. The planet became unstable and what passes for civilisation was left on the eastern continent.

‘Keroessa became all-powerful and set up an empire of barbarism. Beyond the Empire, little or nothing is left. So much knowledge lost forever. But if you have truly found the cave, the ancient oracle, then maybe there is hope for the future. Maybe we were wrong.

‘Destroy half the world and more than people die: an entire civilisation. The cataclysm threw us back into this age of darkness we have endured for a thousand years. Those of us who pilot the Winter Ship around the circling shores of this world know that the lost lands are there in altered form, but we cannot reach them. Today the last outpost of civilisation is as you have seen it, the Sun Empire: Keroessa.’

Naraya lifts her head and fixes me with her cool gaze. ‘We need myths and legends to keep memory alive. Hence the tales of the lost lands that lay beyond the horizon. The legends tell us that life was not always as it is now.

‘Those of us who call ourselves elementals, who serve the Goddess, we seek to atone for the cataclysm and the old world that was lost. Magic is a word for forces we use that we no longer know how to control, if we ever did.

‘If only we can unlock the secrets of the past, we can make this planet stable. The air is spread too thin. There are gaps in the atmosphere, pockets where nothing can live. You’ve seen the Fortunate Isles. They are all that is left of a great continent which once was green and fertile and fed the world. So many trees and plants died when the oceans rose and changed the atmosphere forever.

‘Our religion, cult, call it what you will, is but a memory of the knowledge we had once. People like you, who evolved after the cataclysm, were seen as freaks but we believe you have the power to unlock the ancient mysteries.’

I shrug at that. After my upbringing, I’m not impressed by mysteries and superstition. If Keroessa really represents the height of our civilization, then best it all sink into the sea and the waters rise.

‘You’re right. I was regarded as a freak, locked away like something shameful. I think I always knew that the shame wasn’t mine. I was raised mired in forbidden magic, chained so I flew to the only hand I knew. Why couldn’t you tell me the truth? I’d have helped you let in the light.’

Daan laughs and mutters something that I don’t hear, don’t want to hear, and I can see his sneer that he doesn’t bother to hide.

‘You thought I was less than human, bought me as your slave. You could have trusted me.’

Naraya smiles. ‘You sold yourself to buy your life.’

My face is crimsoned in shame. ‘I was trying to save us all. How was I to trust you then? You had threatened to kill me.’

Razvan laughs. ‘We knew no more of you than you knew of us. Anyway, you followed a path we predicted. Daan isn’t just a navigator who interprets charts. He reads the patterns of the future.

‘We knew where you would lead us, and, if you remember, I was waiting for you. I know what you did, Kyran. You fled, thinking you could forget what happened to your father’s children, but until you learn their true fate, there can be no peace for you.’

I feel so tired. I lean against the cool glass of the porthole. It is frozen shut and the icy glass cools my fever. I pull away and feel skin tear. There is a thin film of me on the glass, speckled with tiny flecks of my blood.

‘Maybe we should have trusted each other. It seems to me we need each other, and I can help if you will let me.’

The cloaked servant lays a hand on my shoulder. Can no one see or hear him but me? His voice is a knife grazing my spine. Leave now. Here is a ghost that will not be denied.

‘I am weary. I would retire. We can talk in the morning,’ I say.

It seems weak to me, but the others accept it, and Razvan gestures that I may leave.

My companion casts no shadow in the torchlight. I retrace my steps to my cabin. It has been swept and tidied in my absence. It is almost warm, but I am shivering. I draw my fur blanket close and face him.

‘You came back.’

Kras puts back his hood. ‘I should never have left you.’

His hands are clasped under his cloak. Something glitters like a blade.

There are strands of silver in the gold of his hair. The skin is drawn taut over his bones and he looks pale and ill. His eyes are enormous in his thin face, and I have some sense of strength like wire tested to breaking point.

‘What did it cost you to come back?’

‘Nothing you need to know.’

Kras always kept his secrets. They say he was raised to please and flatter all, but to me he is forever distant. I can’t predict the thoughts behind those eyes. He is reading me as ever.

I am tired of words. Whatever the fate of the world hangs upon, it can wait until the morning. If this is my last night, I will at least have something to remember in the pale fields that lie beyond the waters of this world. I reach for him and the lights go out.

If there is anything in this world that can hold me, it is here. I am his, though he is anything but mine.

Caught in a cat’s cradle of ice, the ship doesn’t rock, but we are all for falling.

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Proceed to part 3...

Copyright © 2014 by Sarah Ann Watts

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