The cool sand prickled between her toes. Seriah giggled as she walked across the gray landscape. She looked up to the moon. She sang it a happy song.
The moon looked down indifferently. It never cared for these creatures the One had adopted so long ago. They sang, they laughed, they died – what did it matter?
Of course there was no danger here! How could there be? All the Dark Ones fled long ago, before the Endless Summers began. Before they came to live in the gardens. Before the sun reigned from her palace in the sky, a servant to One far higher than herself. And if the Dark Ones had been conquered long ago, why would they ever need the wall?
She topped another rise, following the footprints. One set sank deep into the sand, the other seemed lighter. Maybe it was a man and a woman? Perhaps they were wed.
Seriah frowned. She should be married by now, but no man had ever fit her well. That certainly wasn’t all bad, of course. But perhaps it would be good to search someone out when she returned. They could come and explore the sands together.
The sands wanted to dance around the girl. They had no idea who she was; just that it felt good to be around one so young who did not know what they were. They wanted to leap up, but the wind was far too silent. Oh, to swirl around her! Oh, to let her breathe them in! Oh, to choke her! How wonderful to snuff out an innocent again! It had been far, far too long.
Up another rise. Seriah dropped down to let her fingers trail in the gray dust. It felt so pleasant against her skin. What would it be like to sleep on it? Would the sand listen to her the way the trees once did?
Where did these footprints lead? Was there another garden somewhere on the other side of the sands?
She scrambled to the top and gasped.
The footprints she followed led to a great dark unmoving form. The thing looked vaguely like a cat, but enormous. It lay as if sleeping, but the moon illuminated a great dark puddle that trailed from a mouth open at a strange angle.
She ran to the great cat. Even lying down, it rose to almost her shoulder. Its paws lay sprawled around as if it had fallen from a height. Its fur was so, so soft.
No heart beat in that chest.
She felt no life in its veins. The dark puddle – it was blood.
She looked at her fingertips, where tiny bloodstains still marked her skin. She looked back at the dark puddle that drooled from the poor creature’s mouth.
She had seen the dead before. She had mourned before. Never before had she seen so much blood. People died from old age or occasionally from sickness. Once a young one had fallen into a fire and there had been great grieving. But never before had she seen so much blood.
How could this be? What could cause it?
She bent her head against the flank of the great cat. She wept. Her tears flowed down her cheeks and along the fur, pale silver in the moonlight. Sobs shook her. She cried out to the moon.
The moon did not care about her tears.
The footsteps went all around the great cat.
Did they do this somehow? Did they cause the great cat to die? Who would do that to such a magnificent beast? Who were these two from the gardens?
Seriah thought of the little shadow, the one who had befriended her, sent her on this mission. He said there were no predators out there.
Was the wall there to protect the creatures of the sands from them?
Was she a predator?
No. She had no heart for this. Why would you slay a beast and not even honor it in its death? Why would you just walk away? She saw the footsteps leap across a crag in the ground and go on beyond.
No, she was no predator, but whoever owned these footprints – they were.
Seriah stood and wiped the tears from her eyes. She would follow them. She would find out. And she didn’t know how, but somehow they would have to answer for causing this animal to die. There was a very old phrase. What was it? The elders whispered it.
If you shed blood, then your blood shall be shed.
This is the seventeenth chapter of Summers’ End.