Monday, August 23, 2010

Prisoner of Water: Chapter 9

The river of snow and ice had finally slowed and stopped. The entire moutainside had bene transfromed by the small avalanche. The majority of the soft snow had run down the slope, burying the villagers to their chests in snow, while passing on either side of Anai and her grandmother’s caccoon. Meanwhile, the larger, harder blocks and chunks of ice had fallen like a wall across the plateau, crushing several igloos and cutting the village in half.

“At least I got all the babies and children to the higher houses before that happened.” Anai spoke breathlessly, “They’ll just be on the other side of the snow mound.”

“Foolish girl! You have sealed their doom! There will be no one who will be able to save them!” Swampe said before turning to the soldier with the mark on his face and commanding, “Fire!”

The various soldiers scattered around launched arrows into the air. As the arrows flew, their paths intersected, so that they skimmed over each other. On each arrows was a piece of flint and a cloth soaked in oil. As they skidded over each other, the sparks flew and the arrows lit into bright orange plumes of falling flame, leaving oily black smoke trails behind them. They fell past the large wall of fallen snow, right onto the stretched hide roofs of the houses where the children slept. The hides of the roofs were oiled to keep the water out and so instantly lit up in massive mountains of flame.

“No!” Anai yelled as she began running across the soft snow in her snow shoes she still had on.

“Anai! Wait! I’m coming too!” Josten yelled, scrambling across the tree that had fallen over in the avalanche and now hung precariously over the edge. He quickly tied his snow shoes and followed.

The rest of the villagers were buried too deep in the snow to move, but as Anai and Josten passed them, they were weeping, calling out to the two as they moved across the snow.

“Please! My baby! Save my baby!”

“My daughter! She’s all I have left!”

“My sons! Please! Don’t let them die!”

“My children!”

“My baby!”

The words echoed into Anai’s heart and fueled her desperate panting breaths as she climbed the snow wall. Josten was right behind her, watching her disappear over the edge. The three houses where the children were sleeping were already being eaten by the flames. Anai ran into the first without second thought.

“Anai! Your cloak!” Josten called as he slipped his oiled coat off, before running towards the same house.

But before he could enter, Anai came running out, a baby in each arm, both coughing and crying. Her beaded coat had not caught a single flame because her ceremonial garb was not oiled like the rest. Josten followed her in after they deposited the two safely on the side. Within the structure smoke filled their vision and burnt their throats and lungs. Josten saw the swirling smoke rising towards the domed roofs and dropped down, finding bundles of huddled figures crying in the smog.

“Come on, it will be okay. We’re gonna get you out.” he said as he led three small children out along with a baby in his arms.

Outside, Anai had entrusted the babies to the care of the smaller children while she and Josten began on the next house. The first house they had just emptied creaked as the roof poles fell inward, sending showers of sparks and embers into the inky blackness of night.


“So, how exactly are we getting out of Belotha?” asked Setappep once he caught up with Ismes as the two ran along the top of one of the real limestone walls of the city.

Ismes looked beneath them where the streets were still crowded and congested before speaking, “Well, this whole section of the city, the merchant sector, is actually built over the shallows of the Blue River that runs along the city’s walls. Few people know this, but the river actually flows underneath this whole part of the city.”

“Really? Is that why there isn’t any real limestone here?” Setappep asked.

“Exactly. This limestone wall we are on is the actual bank of the river. Everything below us is wooden boards over the river shallows. It’s mostly filth and mud and dead things down there under the boards. But that is gonna be our way out.” Ismes said dropping down lower before running along several window sills.

Setappep was keeping up this time, asking as he ran, “Wait! What?! We are going under the boards of the city!?! Are you crazy!?!”

“Well, I’ve done it before. But before we go there, I want to stop at the communications tower and check on something.” Ismes said, turning and running on the roofs before them, which were now apparently on the limestone side of the city and therefore not made of straw.

Just to be careful, Setappep slowly lowered his body onto the roof and made doubly sure before running after Ismes. Before them loomed the massive obelisk, with window-like openings up and down the structure, where all manner of birds and winged reptiles were constantly soaring into and out of, as messages were arriving and departing from the communications capital of Nyaami.


Meanwhile, on the other side of the fallen glacial piece, the Magus and Swampe faced off against each other. Swampe swept her hands before her and all the remainder of her troops burst into streams of water that rushed through the air towards her, forming one large river as they came to her beckoning. The river gushed around her like a serpent.

The Magus closed her eyes and breathed deeply. Her hair which had fallen silent since the glacier fell was now flailing about again, braids bulging and straining against the bonds. And then, she stretched out her hand towards Swampe and a crack began to run towards her in the ice’ surface. When it reached Swampe, a large icicle shot out from it like a spear. Swampe timed her movements perfectly and merely stood on the tip and allowed it to push her up to where she just hovered in the air.

“My turn!” She whipped the massive river of water towards the old woman, like a gigantic hammer flailing towards her.

“No!” The old woman yelled as she raised her hands over her head, palms pressed together, before lowering them suddenly.

The river turned to fine powdered snow and rushed on either side of her. Another braid went undone.

“You’re weakening. It’s only a matter of time!” Swampe yelled.


The two figures crawled through the small opening, bird feathers and droppings crusted on all the sides. They wiggled through the hole and slid inside the massive limestone room. It was covered in ledges where scribes at desks were scribbling hastily, while young pageboys walked between the desks, retrieving message from birds and taking them to scribes, or walking back from the scribes and tying messages to the birds’ claws before sending them off again.

“There.” Ismes whispered and pointed towards a busy scribe, who was feverishly copying the same note over and over again.

The pages ran from him to the red ribboned falcons nearby, the highest priority alerts to the citadels across Nyaami. Ismes and Setappep made their way across the room in the shadows as they neared the scribe’s desk. The Tracer held up his hand and slid into the shadows, deeper and darker than even Ismes could get. He watched as a piece of papyrus newly written on seemed to blow faintly by a breeze and gently flutter off the table and drift towards the shadows. A small hand reached out and swept the papyrus away.

“There, I got it.” the Tracer said appearing next to Ismes from the shadows.

“Nyama! Don’t scare me like that! Come on. We can take a peak at it outside.”

The two crawled outside through a tunnel, just barely making it out before a snow hawk was stuffed into the chamber and came screeching out behind them. As they climbed down, using the openings as footholds, they made their way back towards the southern gate, running along the limestone roofs. As they ran, Setappep unfolded the papyrus and scanned the contents. His eyes narrowed again and he quickly tore the bottom half off and threw it behind him as he kept running.


“I think that’s all of them!” Josten yelled to Anai as he swept a glance through the last house.

“Where’s Enna?” a small boy cried, “I want Enna!”

“There, there. You’ll see Enna soon.” Josten said as he picked the boy up and walked him to the rest of the huddled children.

“But Enna went to the big house and didn’t come back!” the boy spoke as he sniffed.

“Anai!” Josten said turning.

“I heard!” She yelled as she ran up to the meeting house at the very base of the jutting mountain peak, its large timbered roof roared with flames.

“Enna! Enna can you hear me?” Anai called as she ran into the thick cloud of smoke. The meeting house’s roof had some of the few actual wooden beams in the village and they were beginning to pop and crackle as the flames spread across them rapidly.

As her throat and eyes stung Anai did what Josten had recommended and dropped to the ground, crawling along the floor. As she kept looking she suddenly heard the faint coughing and cries of the little girl. Following the sound in the deep black smoke, Anai found her huddled in the corner, crying.

“I-I’m sorry. I didn’t meant to come in here. I just wanted. To see what it looked like.” She shivered as she coughed.

“There, there. I’ve got you now. You don’t have to worry. You aren’t in any trouble. Everything will be okay.” Anai said picking the small girl up.

“Anai, get out of there!” she heard Josten yell from outside, “The roof is about to collapse!”

Anai turned back towards where she thought the exit was and crawled towards it. But in the smoke she must have gotten turned around because she only found a wall. Enna was beginning to panic and Anai tried to reassure her as she crawled in a different direction. With a crack, the timbers above her gave way. In the second she had Anai could only think of one thing, and hugged the small child to her to protect her. The heavy burning beams fell down on them, exploding in showers of blazing embers and sparks. All that could be heard from the heap of burning wood was the crackling and popping of the fire as it ate at the wood.

“Anai!” Josten yelled, his voice hoarse.

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