Lu’rik watch as her son approached, a young girl with golden hair riding next to him. He stopped a few paces in front of her to dismount. The girl stayed on her horse, signaling to Lu’rik that they were not planning to say for long.
“Greetings, my son.”
He knelt before her, placing his forehead to the back of her hand. He held the post for several seconds before speaking.
“You are no longer my mother. Your blasphemy is too great. You have harbored one condemned to die. Worse than that, you have allowed her to tamper with the fate of the world.”
“That she did on her own, without my knowledge.” Lu’rik replied. “Why do you honor me if I am not your mother?”
But she already knew the answer.
“I do not honor you as a mother. I perform my duty, honoring the body you have been given and the life which indwells it.”
“So it has already been decided?”
He stood, sliding the knife between her ribs and distancing himself in a single, fluid motion.
“The Horn clan is no more!” He said, projecting his voice. “Burn it down!”
The soldiers surged past, grim faces set to perform the task they had been given.
“Will they go to the Water clan?” The girl asked him as he swung back into his saddle.
“The K’al will take them in?”
“He thinks he can use her.”
“I’m not yet sure, but our allies there will keep me informed.”
“What of the Shard? She tampered with this one. The earth trembles beneath us.”
“Our allies understand the severity of the situation. They will do what must be done.”
A soldier stood at a distance, knowing the consequences of interrupting their conversation without permission. The man signaled him forward.
“The camp was already empty, sir. No one remained except for this old woman.”
“Very well.” The man replied, directing his gaze upward at the billowing smoke. “Make sure the fire does not spread.”
The soldier acknowledged the command with a crisp salute. “Sir!”
The ground rumbled underneath them again causing the horses to side step as they fought to maintain their balance.
“The Unraveling has begun, just as you foretold.” The girl said.
“Yes,” replied the man. “Let us pray to the Goddess we are not too late to stop her.”
With a last glance at the crumpled body of the woman who was once his mother, he spurred his horse back to the north, the girl at his side.
Sh’ra, Za’reth, and U’ri were rowed across the sound by a group of boatmen from the water clan. U’ri stared toward the walls of the capital they could see in the distance above the morning fog, her back to Sh’ra. She had refused all Sh’ra’s attempts at conversation. Sh’ra moved to approach her again, to make her understand but Za’reth grabbed her arm.
“Not here.” He said, nodding toward the men on deck nearby.
“Can they not be trusted?” Sh’ra whispered back, suddenly feeling exposed.
Za'reth shook his head.
“Do they not serve the K’al?” Sh'ra asked.
“Does that make them trustworthy?”
“Why has he invited me to come? Why did we accept the invitation if we cannot trust him?”
“What choice did we have Sh’ra? You are an escaped murderer, although that is the least of your crimes now from the rumors that are being spread."
He paused for a moment before continuing.
"The K’al risks much taking us in. I do not know why he chooses this risk, but we are not in a position to refuse him. Only the Water clan has the strength to resist Ur’in. We will be safe enough from Ur’in there, but we must not think we will be safe.”
“So we are walking into a trap?”
“Floating you mean,” U’ri said, without turning. “We are floating further into the trap we have already walked in to.”
Za’reth nodded. Unsure of how to respond, Sh’ra let the conversation die. The sound of oars cutting through the water brought her attention back to their destination. The fog broke in the west giving her a view of the Water clan fortress. They were still a long way off but she could tell it was massive, sitting at the tip of the peninsula marking the entrance to the sound. Her father had shown her drawings of it when she was a child. The Water clan built their dwellings directly into the cliffs. Above them, a fortress sat guarding the entrance, though there were no records of enemies ever approaching from the west. The fortress had only served as a lighthouse for generations, but it was no less imposing. The bottom half had been formed directly from the black granite. Walls and towers had been added to this, giving it the appearance of having been pulled up from the ground. Perhaps it had been, Sh’ra thought feeling the lodestone in her pocket. Za’reth touched her arm, breaking her reverie.
“We are nearing the place. Are you ready?”
U’ri spun on them. “You cannot be serious about going through with this!” She hissed.
“It must be done,” Za’reth replied calmly.
“Bah! I will not save either of you when you capsize this boat!” U’ri shot back. Then stalked away.
Sh’ra felt another stab of pain at her mistrust, wondering again why she had even joined them. Was it only because Lu’rik had ordered her?
“Here it comes,” Za’reth said, pointing to the south.
Sh’ra looked over the side to see the Shard passing beneath them. She settled into a sitting position and closed her eyes. Fear that she would not be able to reach the lines sprung for her throat. She had never done this from a distance. She shoved it and the anger at U’ri aside. She knew she would not be able to hold them back for long. Into the sound of the rowing oars and waves lapping the sides of the boat, Sh’ra spoke the second truth. U’ri had begrudgingly shared it with her during their ride through the night.
“Water is stone.”
She repeated it as a mantra until her mind quieted. Reaching through the stone, she knew the truth of it. She saw them in the waves. They were different, not lines but dots, thousands of them, blanketing the surface of the sea. Moving her concentration toward them, she found she could make small leaps from one to the next. She marveled at this sea of dots swimming around her, flowing this way and that. Then she remembered her purpose and made her way downward to the Shard.
She opened her eyes when it was done and found herself lying flat on the deck of the boat. Za’reth gripped the railing next to her with white knuckles, staring out at the open ocean. Sh’ra sat up, following his gaze, but seeing nothing. She touched his arm gently. He jerked his arm back as if her hand had seared his skin, his eyes wide with fear. It was instantly replaced with relief when he saw her.
“You were gone a long time.” He said. “We are nearing the keep.”
As he spoke, another pair of arms encircled her from behind as U’ri wrapped her in a hug.
“You are okay?” U’ri asked, concern in her voice. “You collapsed and no one could wake you. Za’reth refused to allow anyone to move you.”
“Yes, I am okay.” Sh’ra replied. “Just tired.”
She relaxed into the embrace, resting her head on U’ri’s shoulder. She found herself almost in tears, relieved at the nearness of her friend.
“What happened?” Za’reth asked. Then held up a hand to prevent her answering as the captain approached.
“I have been instructed to keep your entry into the city a secret. Please retreat to my cabin. We will be in sight of the docks soon.”