This is the sixth and second to last installment of my new serial, The Seventh Rule…
There is an imprisoned lake above our heads, and all my life I never knew.
In a great vault with caustic reflections shimmering on its roof were an uncountable number of cisterns, with those closest to us being very large and those further away being remarkably small. You cannot imagine the quantity. It would take all of the women of every clan and nation working together to gather one tenth of it.
I gasped. Her expression was smug. “You’ve never seen the like, of course.” Inside the vault her voice echoed in a chilly, distant way.
I shook my head. “Where do these puddles come from?”
She gestured vaguely upward. “It’s reclaimed from the air, the streets, the drains, the sewers. I guess it all starts as rain, somewhere far away, at the top of the city — where the windows meet the sky.”
I snorted. “You are gullible.”
“So where do you think it comes from, Yield?”
“Water spirits are wily,” I said, rubbing my chin. “I had not been aware they could be trapped in this way. Who could imagine? Certainly this is the work of your rowboats and their powerful rules. You are proud, but it was not your kind that did this.”
“People do do amazing things, you know,” she snapped.
“People live,” I said. “No more, no less. You have too many extra ideas if you have forgotten this from yourself.”
“I pity you,” she claimed.
I shrugged. “That will not change the flavour of your meat.”
We climbed. The ladders were slippery with green stains. I feared it was a sign that the spirits of verticality disapproved of our progress, so quietly I kissed my talisman and promised under my breath to lay out a grand sacrifice upon my return to the world.
Looking down upon the glittering faces of the cisterns confused my eyes. Another bad omen.
The woman slipped suddenly, flailing as she clutched the baby into her armpit. I was ready — I caught her in the first second of her scream. It echoed away, caught in her throat. Startled, the baby wailed. I smiled. “You climb like a moron.”
“You just saved my life.”
She regained her position on the ladder, breathing fast. She cooed to the baby and clucked her tongue. “Let us continue,” I urged. “This place sweats a vapour of evil.”
The ceiling was slick. It glistened with green tendrils that hung down like locks of hair. She braced herself against my shoulder so that she could stick her fingers in among the sick beard, feeling around for the edges of what she said was a portal. When an edge had been found she groped near it until she found handles and a rotating lock. “I’m going to push it open,” she warned.
“Ready,” I reported, leaning into the ladder.
“Don’t let me fall.”
The baby gurgled. The portal flipped open with a rush of spicy air and admitted a dazzling radiance. My eyes shut but still burned with a hot pink light. I tried to shield my face with my hand but in this movement lost grip on the ladder. For a split second I could see the blazing hatch silhouetting my quarry and her offspring, receding with unnatural speed, shrinking to motes before my body spun and my vision became a confusion.
I was struck by dark and cold. All orientation was dashed away. I saw only sparks and silver bubbles, my ears clogged and my breath turned thick and choking inside my neck pipes. Cruel spirits numbed my limbs and burned in my chest. A glittering blackness overwhelmed me.
The afterlife! I thought; I’m on my way…
The Seventh Rule concludes tomorrow…