After the Fall

Jaraeden watched Alathea plunge through the mists to the darkness beyond, beyond the Graveyard at the Bottom of the World, to whatever demons dwelt below. She did not scream. She did not call. She did not curse. Her god did not part the waters and lift her in the palm of his hand.

So.

Her god was as useless as all the others; he could just summon up a few cantrips. Better than other paladins, of course, but still… useless. He turned to the gathered crowds. His voice caught. He cleared his throat. “Another god that helps no one. Go back to your homes.”

What if what she said was true? If they just burned enough boats…

It would mean burning the ark. It was the heaviest of the ships left. A price to pay, but one worth paying.

Heat pressed against the back of his neck. The crowds on the surrounding decks gasped. Torches fluttered. The drops of rising water fluttered in the slight shock wave.

Jaraeden turned. A wall of flame lit the darkness. A great swathe burned hot even from this distance. Even from here he saw it race from deck to deck, ship to ship.

He did not curse. He closed his eyes and saw his model of the Graveyard. If those were the boats that he expected them to be, in the tightest-packed area of the Graveyard, the flames would not be quenched. They would all burn. There was a reason he always made sure to burn boats that he could keep separate from everyone else.

Alathea. She’d sent her crewmen to do her bidding, even after she died. Of course. Her god wanted everyone saved, didn’t he? Couldn’t do that down here. Time to return to his realm.

Jaraeden felt one corner of his mouth curl upward.

Then he looked down into the abyss.

Ah, Alathea.

The sound finally reached them, a great roaring hiss. The churning crowd fell silent. Even the clattering ceased.

He shouted, “Everyone, stay where you are. Deckhands, shove off. We need to get away from every other ship.”

Men took up great rods of wood and shoved off, toward the center of the great ring that circled below the edge of the world. A fleet of six boats, heavy laden with people, floated into void. Flickering light grew brighter. Heat increased. It spread around the ring of the horizon.

Jaraeden wondered: Where was Alathea’s boat? Where were her crewmen?

Too late now. If they had not gotten away from the Graveyard, they would be devoured soon enough. The only one safe from the flames was Alathea.

The wind caressed her face as she closed her eyes.

“From the depths I call to you,” she sang. “From below the world I cry. Hear me from your palace, Lord. Hear me as I die.”

She choked back a sob.

No. This was good. Hold on to the joy. He has saved you. And he will save those who are above. This is not a wasted death.

She smiled and sang and sobbed as she fell.

So continues Alathea’s tale, The Graveyard at the Bottom of the World.

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