The flames devoured the sails first, of course, ripping through them with a contented sigh, before settling in to chew the marrow of the mast and working down to the deck and hull. Boat after boat. The graveyard needed thinning, after all. The clamor of the hulls, that cacophony of ships ramming each other into eternity, it needed to die down.
Jaraeden breathed deeply of the scent of burning, wet wood. The hiss of the flames was almost enough to drown out the crashing of ships. Almost.
Voices called over the fire. He drank in the sight one more time before turning to face his men. He raised an eyebrow.
Brath, a man in dark clothes and a dark beard, bobbed his head in respect. “The new-fallen. They’re refusing to leave their ship.”
“Should we board her?”
He repeated the shrug and turned his head to absorb the heat with his face. Brath always spoke so loudly. Must he?
One more ship down. The hull itself sang as heat escaped between the boards. Soon it would collapse into the dank abyss. This one had been the Griffon. A majestic ship in her day, but rats had taken her years ago. Squeaking, skittering, chittering rats. And a ship whose only voice was vermin’s was better destroyed, anyway.
“Burn her then?”
Jaraeden turned back at the grating suggestion. He scowled.
“Very well. We’ll keep watch but leave her alone.”
He offered a contented smile at Brath’s suggestion before turning back to the flames. More ships had to be purged. There were too many. Far, far too many. Soon they would outbalance the lifting efforts of the watercycle, and everyone would slip below to endless darkness. If they thought they were beyond the reach of their gods now, how much worse would that be?
His eyes caught a figure – one of the runners from another tribe. One of the scavenger tribes, by the look of the clothes. Useless clods. Arathyn, by the long gait and confident leaps from deck to deck. At least he had some gumption to him. He skirted the edge of the fire as close as he could. A daring boy, that one. He used a stray rigging line to swing to Jaraeden’s ship and slid into a boy. “News!” His voice sang loud and clear over the racket of hulls smashing together.
Jaraeden raised an eyebrow.
The boy didn’t respond.
He raised both eyebrows to get the point across.
Arathyn gasped. “Oh! We found some of the new-fallen. They were wandering. Looking for a special ship. We thought you might be able to help them.”
He pressed his lips together and offered a tight nod.
“Jaraeden, they have a paladin!”
He rolled his eyes and turned away.
“No! She called on her god, and he answered!”
He whirled back to the boy, eyes wide.
“We’re not forgotten! And they need your help!”
Jaraeden ran a hand through his long, black mane of hair. He glanced at the boy, glanced away, glanced back.
This deserved his voice. He spoke, “Bring them here. I will see them.”
A god that heard them beyond the edge of creation? That paid attention to their voices? That almost made it worth it to say something.
This changed everything.
Another fifteen-minute write… wanted to see someone other than Alathea but still advance the narrative a bit. So, someone new!
Thus continues The Graveyard at the Bottom of the World.