All The Woes Of A World - Part 16
Members remain the original copyright holder in all their materials here at Renderosity. Use of any of their material inconsistent with the terms and conditions set forth is prohibited and is considered an infringement of the copyrights of the respective holders unless specially stated otherwise. Zoom in
The Winged spoke quickly, still unsure of his position but eager to reveal his knowledge.
"As Poseidon undertook the journey to the surface, emissaries issued from the transit terminus East of Ganymede. Winged watched as they presented the Groundlings the conditions by which a place in Poseidon might be secured.
"There were many conditions. Women held the highest priority, but only those below the age of sterility. Children next, girls over boys. Men then, but with definite skills and none with the failings of health and age. Winged, not at all; high rank or no. Each to bring their weight in food or usables. No familiars and only the clothes they wore.
"Poseidon surfaced. They expected many to abide by their conditions and be waiting at the terminal, at Transit Control." Sere laughed in disgust. "They were disappointed. There was no one at Transit Control save for guards and emissaries. Many stayed at home. Many left for the North. They travel still. They follow the coast and Winged watch over them.
"Before I left, those from Poseidon had begun looting. They have weapons and had begun to take Groundlings. I believe they want slaves and birthing women and girls. There was very little any of us could do. I saw Winged murdered and fall. I was Called and given messages you have seen. They mention not the troubles and now I understand. They fear Neptune and want not that Neptune sides with Atlantis. That I tell you this puts my life in jeopardy.
"Poseidon is on the rampage and the Bargains are these: Surrender all that you own and your offspring and you will live. Surrender yourself and live in service." Tears appeared suddenly in Sere's eyes. "My Lady Io, they are raping the women and the children. It is as if Lord Lucifer walks amongst them."
The Lady Io's face had become a pale mask of horror. She trembled with rage and disbelief. That such things could happen sickened her both mentally and physically.
"They have weapons?" she asked with incredulity.
"And are using them." confirmed Sere.
"Is this revenge, do you think?"
"It's more than that, I'm sure. I believe something's been festering within Poseidon for years. The only thing I cannot be sure of is the effect the diminishing of the sun has had on them. It's as if they disbelieved what was to happen and wanted to take advantage of our belief in it. Now that it has occurred, they might be changing their plans."
"What do you believe, Sere?"
"I believe we should...I should, return now and help those coming North complete their journey here. On my own I can do little else. My concern now is the amount of time we have left. I understand that from this day our time is uncertain?" Lady Io agreed. "Would Neptune be willing to accept them?" Again, Lady Io concurred. Sere looked relieved. He had never considered that Neptune would do otherwise, but there had always been the need for confirmation. "And would they be willing to wait? I cannot estimate how long it will take to get anyone here along the coast."
"I agree that the coast is difficult. We do have some expertise in this kind of thing. If we can gather enough Winged and if we can find your 'Refugees', we can relieve them of their burdens and their children, even the old and sick.
"Neptune has already agreed to wait until the last possible moment before sealing itself. We have a bond of trust unlikely to be broken." She moved to the door as she wrapped a long cloak about her. "Wait here. Rest until my return. There is a bed through there." She pointed to a corridor. Its entrance was almost opposite the outer door. Sere followed her finger, but as he looked back to thank her he saw only the darkness of her cloak disappearing into the dimness of the day.
The wind stank of the sea. A fetid reek of death, as if the ocean itself had died and was rotting under the wan glow of what was left of the sun, found its way into their nasal passages and appalled them. They chose to ignore it and then learnt to ignore it for there was no reason for its existence. It was worse now than before, as if it had taken to the end of this third day since Omega Dawn to reach in full strength the coast of Almasia-Nor. It seemed to them that whatever it was that had died was far away indeed. This thought was of course erroneous for they lacked understanding in the ecosystem of the sea and could not comprehend of it as an entity in its own right.
The signs were all about them now. The leaves on the trees had almost all discoloured and were preparing to fall. Birds sang less now and flew only for moments. The beasts that were left acted strangely and with confusion. Messages sent from the ice-rim and the mountains told of the moving of the ice and the coming of the snow line. The world around them was becoming colder as had been predicted and all were beginning to see.
Daldareth led them. Three hundred or more Winged, strung out in a line behind him, so close to one another they might have been tethered. The line flowed like the rippling movements of a snake or a line of floats on the water above a Fisher's net, so close did it follow the shore. They flew low, no more than a hundred feet above the sea, their eyes alternating between their direction and their search. Those they were seeking had to be found urgently, for no one knew when it might be too late.
The Winged ate on the wing, drank on the wing, for here was the ultimate test of their endurance. In these most dangerous of days the Winged were to truly show their worth. And in silence, save for the sound of the wind through beating wings. From no where came a flock of sea birds who, in the dimness of the day, mistook the Winged for their kin and after a mile or so in escort, suddenly realised their mistake and sheared off in fright, calling hysterically to the sea.
Their speed was punishing, their course equally so. There was no time to take advantage of the wind direction, (thermals being practically non-existent now), nor time to gain altitude and descend in a glide that would carry them for miles with little or no effort. In any case, too high an altitude would obviate their ability to see the ground in sufficient detail or any movement upon it in the poor light.
Michael and Sere wondered as one if a gain in altitude would remove the stench from the air. Their sense of smell, (and presumably that of the others), had long since been overloaded, leaving their brains to filter out the excess odour. Sere counteracted his repugnance by allowing his conscious mind to shut down and his subconscious to take over. This allowed him to fly automatically, but ready to be alerted to slightest variation, the slightest deviation. Besides that of course, was the proximity of his kind who would be more than happy to yell at him should the need arise.
Michael flew in this way also, but permitted a small part of his conscious self to consider their position and try to gauge the state of the others. This state of mind allowed him to check his weapon for the hundredth time since he had received it from the hands of Sariel's wife, the Lady Io. Oh! He knew the basics of their purpose, but somehow had missed the part where the reason for armaments had been given. The seriousness of their journey must, he considered, be great indeed for these weapons were designed to kill, not to injure or ward off. The question then was that which asked him if he could kill. The weapon was familiar to him, of course. He'd used it - or one like it - to kill beasts that had taken it into their heads to run amok. Could he kill people, or would it not come to that? In the end of course, he knew that the decision would quite possibly be made for him.
"You seem to have a sixth sense for all this," said the Lady Sarah.
The Lady Io smiled knowingly, but denied the suggestion. "It's just common-sense. One's gift for planning is someone else's oracle."
"If this is down to wisdom then I congratulate you."
"Really, it's very simple. Up here on the coast we have the Fishers who usually went out together. Chances were that at least one would need the help of the Physician." She picked up a pile of fresh towels and deposited one in each of the cubicles as she talked. The Lady Sarah watched her industry, was surprised at the fact of a Lady doing this work but too polite to mention it directly. "I have always thought that one in every hundred would come here. This time...well, this time we know that three hundred Winged began the Crossing. The longer the Crossing, the more certain the probability of injuries.
"It's like when Daldareth escorted you across the mountains. I had three cubicles made up. And before you tell me that only Gabriel and Brielga needed care, I should mention that I didn't foresee death. I never do. No one does." She kept silence for a moment as if in remembrance of Oiska. "So, three hundred Winged, a long Crossing, they go to try to find an unknown number of travellers. I'm no oracle. I'm just expecting to be kept busy when they come back."
They returned to the kitchen, Lady Io to prepare the cowl, Lady Sarah to sit and learn more of rural life. As she listened to her host she became more aware of what a sheltered life she had led in the Southlands. It struck her as being important that the ways of her life were already gone, already destroyed, and that their impending journey, the Ultimate Crossing, might have need of what she might learn this day.
"I still think that somewhere we went astray. We have built the Power Projects. We have learnt to transmit power through the air and have things that receive it for good use. Yet we still use the Winged for our messages. I mean them no ill. How could I? I've been married to one for nine years. I just don't understand why, instead of just power, we couldn't send words through the air. Wouldn't that be useful?"
The Lady Sarah looked confused. "I'm not sure. Wouldn't the Guild have something to say about that?"
Lady Io giggled, her mirth preventing her stirring the cowl. "I wouldn't be surprised if they already had," she said in a conspiratorial whisper.
Lady Sarah's eyes flew wide open at such a scandalous suggestion. "Shush! Do you want a rebellion?"
"Shush, tush. Rebellion! Men are all alike. You want to know what a Winged is? It's a man with two sets of arms. They're all the same, silly! You just avoid hurting their pride and you won't go far wrong."
"Oh! Now I understand," exclaimed the Lady Sarah, her mind seething in revelation.
"Easy, isn't it?" continued Io, misreading her guest's remark.
"No, no. I got something wrong ages ago. I...I upset my Privateer."
"Brielga? The one who broke his wing?"
"Yes. He brought messages and I accused him of many things. I was sorry then and if the truth be told, I'm sorry still. But I didn't know how to make amends."
"And now you do?"
"Of course. Thanks to you."
"Was it something I said?" laughed Io.
Lady Sarah laughed with her. Lady Io left the receiver-heater and joined her companion at the table. The glasses chinked as she caught her foot against the table-leg. Their chimes reminded her of their intention to drink wine before the evening meal. Come what may, the wine was to fortify them if for no other reason than to inspire conversation.
The wind beyond the shutters hinted at weather to come and caused them to wish not the coming storm on the Winged travellers. The imbalance in the atmosphere sucked air from the room enough to fan the flames in the fireplace and reassured them of their comfort and safety. Tonight would not be one in which to be abroad.
"I remember when I first met Sariel. He used to say when we were alone, 'I will a Carried make you, when all is dry and warm. I will wrap my wings around you, as protection from the storm'."
"You are very lucky. I seem to have missed out, somewhere along the way," said Lady Sarah, wistfully.
Lady Io chided her, saying, "But you have youth! You'll meet with someone, you'll see."
With irony, Sarah disagreed, "I don't think we have time enough to embark on the usual two year courtship."
"Sorry!" gasped Io. "Oh, I do seem to have stuck the knife in." She refilled their glasses. "But surely you have faith in your own ideas? Your plan for escape is probably the most brilliant scheme since the building of Sun's Home."
Sarah began to feel some of the relaxing sensations provided by the wine. "It will only be a brilliant scheme if it works," she said lightly.
Lady Io seemed determined to quell her guest's rising melancholy. "Look on the bright side..."
"What bright side?" interrupted Sarah. "Haven't you noticed? Angelis hasn't got one."
Their sudden laughter rang around the room, forcing the sound of the wind to retreat to its farthest corners.
"Shush! Let me finish."
"What? Come on! Get on with it," said Lady Sarah, still laughing.
"I was trying to say, 'Look on the bright side. If we all sink, there'll be no one left to complain."
"I know that! And Old Lucifer will be jumping up and down in his coffin saying, 'Na na, na-na na! Told you so! Told you so!"
"In his coffin? How do you jump up and down in a coffin?"
"I'm not sure, but I'd guess it's something perverse."
Lady Sarah almost choked on her words. "Oh, I see! A coffin made for two!"
"No!" cried Sarah. "A coffin with just a little hole in the bottom."
"And with men's usual gift for messing up, the coffin would get pregnant!"
"Congratulations!" Lady Sarah mimicked an unknown physician. "It's a tinderbox!"
Their laughter reached a level of chortling hysteria that rocked the table and rattled the bottles and glasses. Outside and in the distance a long low rumbling of thunder announced the onset of the tempest. Their laughter faded, as did their smiles. Yet the table continued to shake and the glasses to clink. The crackle of flames in the fireplace alerted them to the fall of soot from the chimney. Flakes of wash from the ceiling floated down like feathers and butterflies and covered all things as if with a fine ashen snow. And suddenly there was a pressure in the air that weighed on their chests like the water in the Deeps.
"The Mother of Storms is at hand. We should check the shutters," Lady Sarah recommended.
Io shook her head and with trembling lips denied the other's words. This was no storm; of this she was sure. The floor had begun to vibrate with an intensity that threatened to set her teeth on edge.
"The roof! We have to be up on the roof!"
Her chair crashed back as she stood. At speed she hurried to the stairway at the end of the hall, ignoring the vibrating floor, not caring if her guest was at her heels or not. At the stairs she slipped on the first step and was saved from injury by her out-flung arms and a supporting hand from Sarah. The wooden stairway hummed in tune with the ground and yet felt no less stable. It took their weight as it had that of many others for many years.
The door out onto the flat roof swung open and crashed back against its hinges, pushed by the wind and held by the same. They struggled to clear their eyes of their hair and adjust to the drop in temperature. There was moisture in the air carried on the wind, but it was by no means the onset of rain.
Lady Io pointed to the North-West. "There!" she cried, her voice competing with that of the wind. "In the distance! There is the storm!"
"What storm shakes everything?" called her companion, loudly.
Io kept her head turned to her view. "Hades! The volcano! It's started already. Hades will vomit over all!" she spat in rage.
She could see it now. her eyes had adjusted to the dimness. Here she was witnessing something never seen in living memory and the Lady Io was showing it to her. The orange-red glow began beyond and beneath the horizon. This changed nothing. Its presence was a carpet, a foundation, which supported the enormous orange-white mushroom of the eruption, the ejaculation of matter from the planet's mantle, the semi-molten material known as Magma.
This was by no means a spectacle of beauty; at least not for those who trembled in fear within and in sympathy without. Above the plume, the shooting star and explosive display, rose the confusion of black, sulphurous clouds that billowed and swirled and mixed with the natural cloud formations above the continent. Now and then an outward bound volcano born meteor would arch away from the pyroclastic cone, propelled by incalculable pressures and sent spinning on a fiery parabolic curve, condemning to death and destruction the land it fell upon.
There could be no predicting how long the eruption of Hades would continue. Yet for the two Ladies it was already too late. They had seen, continued to see, and were hypnotised by both its majestic splendour and the heart-stopping terror it symbolised. At that very moment they could not have been convinced that before many days were numbered, this showing of strength and power by the volcano would pall into insignificance. Before them, so far away, was not the final symphony of Angelis, nor even the prelude. The eruption of Hades was soon to be seen as merely the tuning of the orchestra.
The Lady Sarah was unsure now, disorientated. With so little light in the world about her she found it difficult to decide if the sun had set or not. Was it evening or night? The timepiece set into the back of her hand told her the truth of it, that night had yet to come. And then she understood. This scheme of things had changed irrevocably. What lay before them was their world now, if only temporarily. In this way she committed her emotions to new purpose for she could see Angelis as it would remain until its demise - and rejected it.
"I didn't know you could see it from here."
"You can't. That's the eruption you're seeing. The mountain is well down on the horizon."
"Then that fire must be..."
"Twenty to twenty-five thousand feet high," Io continued for her. "Anything within a radius of one hundred miles or more will be dead or dying. And that's the least of our worries. All that stuff going up has to come down. I read about it somewhere." She drew Sarah back to the stairs and won the fight to get the door closed again. In the relative peace of the stairway she continued, "It's called 'Black Rain' and it devastates the land and poisons the water. When it falls we begin to die. You must pray it doesn't reach this far."
As they returned to the kitchen the ground shook distinctly rather than vibrated. Several figurines fell from a shelf and smashed to pieces on the floor.
"And they were my best ornaments, damn it!"
Twice was Daldareth annoyed. Firstly, he had expected them to make better progress than this even allowing for the unevenness of the coastline. It had taken the Winged almost five days to find them and that of course was the second thorn in his side. He should have been the first to see them and yet that honour had gone to a younger Winged.
If the truth of it be known, the younger would have had to admit that if they had not been in such great number he might have missed them also. Instead, he had not actually seen them with his eyes more than as a change in texture, in appearance, against the cliff root and taluses.
By unheard command roughly half the Winged alighted on the cliffs, fifty or so feet above the miserable Groundlings. In the space of an hour a network of ropes and cradles covered the cliff face in order that the Groundlings might be drawn up from the beach. This of course was no easy task for evening drew nigh and with it the steady worsening of the weather. Those who would look saw the rising of the seas, heard the waves crash with greater intensity and struggled against the strength-sapping pressure of the wind. At sea level - or as near as - the Winged, under Daldareth's command, organised the Groundlings into groups of priority, the idea being that the least capable be raised up the cliff face and away from the inhospitable beach first. As this began to take place a tally was taken. Only by knowing their numbers would the Winged be able to form a campaign by which they might transport the Groundlings to Neptune's Gate and safety.
Daldareth stood back from the work on and below the cliff and watched for things that might employ his superior size and strength. Occasionally he saw situations of danger or stupidity develop and was able to correct these with a call and a pointed finger. In this he had respect and brooked no argument, for well it was known that he suffered fools not at all.
The respect he was given, the high regard he was held in, he reflected in his regard for his kind. He was not to blame then, when the call came for his attention, for assuming that it was a Groundling and not a Winged who had got into difficulties. Stabilizing himself with his wings he skittered across the rock strewn beach to the cluster of Groundlings surrounding the cause for their concern.
That the Winged, on his back and drenched by rain and spray, was in agony was beyond doubt. His face was a mask of clenched teeth and clamped-shut eyes, hissing breath and darkening skin. A Groundling strove to direct a flickering receiver-light over the Winged's frame. Daldareth waited as the light travelled from head to toe. But it didn't get that far. The problem was obvious to all as the light came to rest on the Winged's injury. Daldareth cursed long and loud and then...
"Dung heap! His bloody tibio-tarsus is broken!" he declared pointing to the Winged's left leg, below the upper-knee. He waved the light down to the leg's claw-foot and found it jammed firmly between two jagged rocks. "I bloody despair! I don't suppose you can preface on one leg, can you?" he asked.
"We're not all perfect like you, Daldareth," retorted the target of Daldareth's scorn. "Sod off and do something useful!"
"..like break your other leg?" Daldareth suggested. He pointed to the stone trap and urged the Groundlings to attempt its removal. "What else is damaged?"
"A few quills maybe, and my pride. I can still fly," replied the Winged, more in optimism than common sense.
"I hope so," said Daldareth, with reluctant sympathy. "If we can get you up the cliff we'll see what can be done. Don't worry. We don't leave our folk behind.
Hours later found close to midnight. It rained steadily now, and the wind had strengthened. Together they forced water through clothing and onto already chilled flesh. Those with skill had sealed the broken bone of Raguel's leg, wrapped it around with a binding of beast's skin. His entire leg had been collapsed at its knees and strapped up against his sternum. This left his primary toe scant inches below his chin and caused some restriction of his chest muscles.
Raguel knew he'd fly, but not without some difficulty. Winged legs usually hung free, extended rather than tucked up and hidden in the soft down at the belly like so many ordinary birds. In any case, Winged had no soft down at the belly, only skin covered with clothes. In the free position, legs were an important aid to stability in flight. Having only one leg free would make Crossing erratic at best, with a collision on the ground when Alighting an absolute certainty.
Their problem was solved sooner than expected thanks to the intervention of an observant Groundling.
"He'll not carry Groundlings," he noted, after attracting the attention of another Winged. "Give him bags to carry."
"Why?" inquired the Winged tending Raguel's immobilized limb.
"Because, we need baggage carried and because they will soften his landing," said the Groundling firmly.
The problem was solved and forgotten as others became apparent. Slightly more than nine hundred Groundlings had been raised up the escarpment. Strategy had yet to be agreed upon. It was obvious to the Winged that in the first place the Groundlings had to be lifted back to Charon and Neptune's Gate: without their help they would never complete the journey on foot. In the second place, they were out numbered by almost three to one.
Daldareth wished for a wall he could bang his head against and even considered the cliff face as an acceptable substitute. He was sure now that Angelis was determined to kill him and no matter what he went through the end result would be the same. Neptune's Gate seemed far away from him now, in a sense too far, as if in seeing his dilemma it had already closed the door on him. Strangely, his thought did not hold the same fate for other Winged and the Groundlings. It was as if only he would fail to arrive in time or that he would become the victim of some horrendous mishap.
(Continued in Part 17)
- September 3, 2011
- Science Fiction
- 16.7 kB
- Views Today
- Views in Last 45 Days
- Full-size Views
There are no comments yet