Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Prisoner of Water: Chapter 10

As they kept going along the roofs towards the place Ismes had in mind, he could not shake the feeling that something was wrong. He had been feeling it from the moment he had met Setappep. Sure they had not had the smoothest of relationships but there was something else. Something else that bothered Ismes.

He realized that it was his friend, the other Tracer, who had told him so much about the Tracer way, yet this kid was not following the rules at all, and the ones he did follow he did sloppily. When he had grabbed the papyrus, he had let his hand come from the shadows. For any Tracer that would have been the ultimate humiliation. And then there was the way he did not remember the principle of the flow, or even seemed to care as much about it. No, something was not right. Ismes could feel it, like the cold drop of sweat that was running down the ridge of his back right then. He looked back at Setappep, who was still clutching the papyrus.

“Well, we’re here.” He said, sliding down an alleyway, that terminated in several drainpipes over a grate.

“In there?” the Tracer sounded unsure.

“Yes. And don’t worry. It looks completely full but you’ll see, there are air pockets. Though you’re gonna wish there weren’t.” Ismes said turning to enter, before turning back to the boy and holding out his hand, “By the way, I should probably take a look at the papyrus before we head in, since it won’t last in the water.”

The boy handed the crisp piece of papyrus over to the other.

“To all Captains across Nyaami,
This is a command imperative issued to all levels of armed persons. All guards and citadels are to be places on high alert. All garrison captains report with your troops to the nearest citadel for further deployment instructions. All citadels, fortify your regions with patrols and scouts. This is a state of highest emergency. The reason is to remain classified to higher personal only and not to be made public as it may endanger the life of the hostage. The Princess Kiza of Belotha has been kidnapped. Do what ever it takes to rescue her and you will be justly rewarded. And a higher reward goes to one who brings the head of her kidnapper-”

“What!” Ismes said, “Where’s the rest?”

“It must have torn when I was crawling through the bird tunnel.” Setappep said, “Anyway, it doesn’t matter. We have a job to do.”

“What are you talking about! Kiza is in danger! We’re going back!” Ismes said, lowering the grate onto the putrid puddle.

“Stop! Think about it!” the Tracer said, holding Ismes back with his hands, “All the garrisons will be looking for her, so if there is even a chance of whoever did this getting caught then they’ll catch him. Or, her father will just have to pay the ransom and get her back. Either way, no one is going to hurt her. But what we have to do right now is focus on our mission. Because that’s what Kiza would have wanted.”

Ismes gave a roar of frustration and grabbed the grate, yanking it up right and holding the rusted iron up. He took the papyrus and placed it within his leather belt, where it had a better chance of staying dry. Then he leapt into the murky, fetid water. Setappep followed behind him, hearing the faint sound of the grate falling back in place above them. There would be no going back now.


Josten ran to the pile and began pushing burning wood aside using some of the nearby poles. He levered a large section away and felt relief flood his over worn system. There were the two of them. The single braid dangling from Anai’s ear shivered and strained as a faint sapphire blue cacoon of light enveloped them.

“You’re okay.” he sighed as he took Enna from her hands and carried her back, helping Anai out.

“What about grandmother?! We have to go back and help her!” Anai suddenly said running towards the pile of ice and snow, beginning the climb again.

Josten deposited Enna with the other children and directed them to the safety of a non burning and non flammable igloo that had survived the fall. Then he ran after Anai. She was already at the top when he reached it. As he stood up next to her, he was as shocked as she was. Below them, her grandmother danced in an intricate dance against Swampe, each sending various ice and water projectiles towards the other, while simultaneously avoiding the others’.

“Anai!” her grandmother called, “Are they safe?!”

“Yes, grandmother!” she called back, waving, in awe at her grandmother’s movements.

“You must put out the fires! Otherwise everyone will freeze tonight!” the wise woman called as she narrowly avoided another onslaught. “No matter what!”

More of the braids on her head began to shoot loose and unravel. Anai watched in horror, her throat constricting as she tried to call out, but no words came out. Josten grabbed hold of her and held her as time seemed to slow and the Magus made one last massive movement with her hand. As she did, Swampe did the same. A gigantic wave of water and a similar one of ice crashed into both, just as the last braid was undone. Both figures flew over the edge of the cliff in an explosion of slushy, icy water.

“Grandmother! No!!!!” Anai screamed as her body shook in Josten’s tight grasp.

He closed his eyes and looked away, before he smelled the smoke and turned to look back at the houses.

“Come on!” He said turning and running back towards them.

“But she went over! We have to go find her! She could still be alive!” Anai yelled as she felt the hollow ache begin to build up inside of her, “We have to help her! She can’t be dead! She can’t! She’s still alive and we have to help her, Josten!”

“Anai! She said to protect the village no matter what! To stop the fires! Even if we did save her, there would be nowhere to take her to where she could recover from her wounds. We have to save the houses first!” The words felt cheap and hollow in his mouth, but he knew they were true. Even if she had just sacrificed herself for them, they had to take care of the houses first.

Anai ran after him, her cheeks flushed. She knew he was right. She knew that it was the right thing to do, but she was still so angry. Angry at Josten for not letting her save her grandmother. Angry at her grandmother for telling her not to save her, making her promise to save the houses. And angry at herself for not wanting to do what her grandmother had said. Angry at life, and the world, and anger itself.

Josten threw his coat on one of the fire, but it only caught fire too. This was a problem. Everyone was wearing oiled hide coats to keep the water out. But if they tried beating the flames with them they would just make things worse. Anai stopped and pulled her beaded coat off.

She began beating at the flames on the roofs and the sides of structures, hot tears stinging her eyes before running down her burning cheeks. She yelled as she kept beating at the flames, all her raw emotion, her anger at everyone including herself. All her fear of what would happen now. Of what the future would hold. All her grief for her grandmother and for herself. It all came pouring out in tears and cries and the beating of her cloak against the structures.


Setappep could not see anything. He floundered through the murky water, which felt thick and oily, his hands brushing against warm and furry things floating around him. Suddenly, a strong hand grabbed hold of his arm and pulled him up. His face pushed against something gellatenous and thick, before he passed through the membrane. He opened his eyes and saw the sickly yellow bioluminecence that lit up the surface of the thick, jelly like membrane around him. He took a breathe and instantly gagged, feeling the vomit rising in his throat. Ismes was there by him, gritting his teeth as he breathed.

“Don’t breathe too deeply. When dead animals fall into the cracks between the boards they float down here and their corpses bloat up, filling with air. Eventually the animal rots away, except for this membrane that gets left over. This air is actually poisonous and we’ll need to get some medicine once we surface. But at least its air. Just try not to breathe too much.”

Setappep nodded his head, unable to speak, sure that he would vomit if he tried to speak. Ismes dived down and he followed. In the fetid, murky water, he could see the faint glowing spheres stretched out before them. His foot brushed against something soft and fleshy, which then began to give way under him. He could not hold the nuasea back then, and just let the vomit flow out of him into the grey water as he kept swimming for the next bubble of poisoned air.


Dawn light bled sickly and pale into the skies above Djarmond. The sky could not be seen, the heavy mist settling over the entire moutain, mixing with the specks of ash and falling snow that wavered in the breeze. As the village woke up, there were no celebrations or stories or songs. The somber awakening came as they all surveyed what was once the jewel of the mountains, the village of Djarmond. A wall of snow covered half the village, the rest still stood, though the houses and igloos all showed signs of fire damage, and ash was everywhere. In the middle of the ash field stood a lonely figure.

She had used almost all her many ceremonial layers to extinguish the fires. Her once intricately woven hair was hanging like a massive black veil around her head and face, down her back. Josten walked up to her and placed a cloak about her bare shoulders. She stood and hugged the cloak closer, as Josten placed his arms around her. The cloak had been her grandmother’s, that she had left behind that fateful day. It was all Anai had left of her.

“I went to the woods and found someone who might be able to help us.” Josten said, leading her back to the main meeting house, whose roof had caved in the night before.

“Who?” she asked, devoid of all emotion, completely drained from that evening’s catharsis.

“The last of the Elders.” he said as he showed her the small man of snow they had made that morning up in the woods.

“Anai.” spoke the airy, aquatic voice. “You have suffered much. But now is not the time for grief. That is yet to come.”

She nodded numbly.

“I am the last of the snow sprites, that you call Elders. Long have we lived with your village, traveling away during the summer to report your and our doings to the higher sprites, before returning at first frost. Now, listen carefully, what occurred last night is too great to wait till then to report. Therefore, I require that you take me to the Sacred Spring. There is the Council of All Waters. They will know what to do.”

Everyone lowered their heads as if agreeing without knowing what they were agreeing to. All this talk of snow sprites and great councils and sacred springs were all too much for the grief wearied minds of the people. The sprite felt compassion for them and decided to keep its words brief.

“Josten, you seem to be touched by a special kind of destiny. Hopefully, that destiny will be able to guide you as you carry me to the sacred spring.” the small snow figure said, as Josten nodded his head in acknowledgement. “I can melt myself and fit very easily within a waterskin.”

Then turning it said, “And Anai, you must come along as well. You are now the new Magus of Ice, title inherited from your grandmother. It should have gone to your poor mother, but, as that cannot be, you must don this heavy mantel, at such a young and tender age.” Anai did not look at Josten. She could not process any more sorrow or disappointment, not now. “However, your training was never finished. You must travel with Josten to the City of Catamhar. There is one who can complete the vital last part of your training.”

And so Josten with his oiled skin coat and provision bag strapped snugly to his back, the Elder placed inside a waterskin around his neck, and a stout walking staff in hand walked towards the gate of the village. Anai joined him, her grandmother’s tan mantle wrapped around her shoulders, as she led a longhaired mountain eland behind her, its thick reddish wooly back weighed down with more provisions. The two met at the gate and walked down the stairs carved in the stone. The village stood watching them go, all silent as the grave.

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