Against the Coaming
There is a place I need to reach before the sun breaks. First, low under ground, far below the water’s surface, so that I can then ascend high above to the very peak of the tallest spire, the only one still fully standing. Temple Coral crumbling, being eaten by the sea, and Temple Garnet standing strong. One for each city. Both as they should be. No bridge to bind them, but their veins of catacombs share common bones. I will crawl through one to climb up the other.
If there were windows or a rampart in the Garnet tower I would be able to see all of AZJ, both crippled cities turning in their sleep. From my crow’s nest I could see the tide change well before it lapped at the docks. I could count every signal antenna, every ship, every piece of mortar and marble either above or below the creeping water. Nothing would hide from me. But there are no windows, no rampart, not even a whisper of space where any light or sound can seep through. The only thing the spire lets in or out are thoughts. Inside the top of the tower will be the deepest black the likes of which I have never seen. A hollow obelisk that eats echos and sight, where not even a tallow candle could flicker to life. It swallows light until the darkness collapses in on itself leaving behind only a pressing endless void.
What I know: I will slice through the water, crawl through the catacombs, climb the tower, enter the spire, plant the seed, let it grow, sail away. But before growth there will be destruction, and before that the journey must be finished. So I surge forward in the water, my little skiff picking up speed.
I pass the first block in silence. No crew hanging out in the water or crowding on their floating stoops. When I near the second cross-stream I spot a rumpled mass floating ahead of me. A thief most likely. The poor don’t suffer thieves and tend to make examples of the worst offenders. Bodies are flung over the side of buildings and left strung up as warning. Sometimes they’re pulled back up and properly burnt. Sometimes the ropes are too old and snap under the dead weight and the bodies drift away to others part of the cities. Someone else’s problem. I steer my skiff gently to the right and fight the urge to pick pockets. Old habits. Even the dead can be useful, but just because I can’t see a block crew lurking doesn’t mean they haven’t laid a trap. I don’t have time to scavenge or play games.
As I pass a ramshackle private dock I feel eyes on me. A shabby but well fed cat is perched like a little sentinel at the end of the drooping pier. Its tail sways underneath it curled like a fishing hook. I try not to think of my sister Jackie and her kitten that she never finished naming. Spears, Buttons, Drinkem, TeeGee, Jolly, Spratle, Beans. Those are the only names I still remember even though I’d prefer not to remember them at all. Every week a new name until she was barely awake long enough to eat let alone spare breath to rename her scavenged cat.
I resist the urge to look back at the sagging corpse drifting behind me. Little Jackie swaddled in all my unused clothes. Anything to keep her small frame warm. That stupid kitten nesting among the layers trying to burrow down to her empty stomach. They were like ragtag twins. Both underweight, both mottled brown, pink paws and fading pink palms. Dark spots of matted fur that matched the dark rings under her closed eyes.
The cat on the dock watches me slip past. The water pulls me forward. Everything fluid eventually moves to its lowest point and the current I’m riding is no different. We glide toward the catacombs: myself, my boat, the water. Everything is prepared to sink.
This is part 3 following part 1 and 2 of my AZJ series.