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THE MEMORIES Kaza took during his flight from Theseus would, over the years following, erode away, leaving only small pockets of detached experience like islands in the dark: images or random feelings that would whisk him back instantly, as though time and experience could be separated from one another, as though the right concentration of adrenaline in the bloodstream was all that was necessary to tear the grasping seconds free from the urgent spirit of the witness.
This was just such a moment for him as he watched the docks of Bossool roar into flames from both ends, as he stood on the summit of the decimated hill and felt the urgency of his soul demand that he release the hopelessness weighing it down and to will his freedom into existence, even against all the evidence that there was no freedom anywhere to will into existence—and that even if there were, his will was not remotely powerful enough to do so given the obstacles before him now.
He cried out and, ignoring his own safety, sprinted down the hill. He didn’t look to see if the soldiers spotted him. He only remembered focusing on the bright fire, determined to go through it bodily if he must, his spirit pulling away from the seconds holding him to the cratered road; he remembered glancing at the Sisters glowing dimly over the impossibly distant and unseen Ae Infinitus—
—and accelerating suddenly to great speed, much greater than he could possibly run. His legs were no longer working; he could no longer feel the rapid shocks of his footfalls against the ground. He glided forward effortlessly, a sparkling white vapor blowing out of his eyes …
He was … was … flying!
It had happened in less than the blink of an eye. He didn’t recall looking left or right for wings, or gazing under his person to see a belly covered in downy feathers or taloned feet: all extraneous details blew away with the vapor. He was flying … the flames came at him with terrible speed … he zoomed just over them, feeling their intense heat a scant second before banking hard left, swooping over the mainmast of the Arilyceum and down onto her deck. As he landed he was overcome by that sparkling smoke once more, which flashed brightly in his vision before dissipating. He gazed down at his feet, which had magically returned to him.
He had just flown!
The flames licked against the hull of the boat on both sides—he had to cast off immediately, immediately! He shot forward and yanked the lines free from the mooring—the fire was right on top of him; he sat on the stern and pushed off with all his might. His shoes and pant legs, though still damp from the canal, smoked as he watched with burning and tearing eyes. He stood, wiping them, backing blindly away. Slowly—too slowly—the boat passed through the hall of flames and out into the heavy coolness of the night. He pulled his shirt off from around his face and was astonished to discover one of its sleeves on fire. He put the flames out by clapping his hands around them; he tossed the shirt aside and crouched low in the boat, catching his breath.
There was an object at his feet. It looked like an oversized cannonball but was shaped like a small barrel. Stiff strings each as long as his index finger stuck out of the top, three total. He only took the slightest notice of them or their parent; already he had stood, busying himself with raising the mainsail and securing the jib, grateful that the Ari was moving straight into the onshore breeze—
The explosion to his left caught him unawares. The force of it almost knocked him overboard. Flaming debris arced overhead. The boat in the slip just next to the Ari had exploded. Some of the debris landed on deck, just next to the odd cannonball-thing. He rose shakily, his back aching, and looked upward at the jib and mainsail to make sure they weren’t burning or filled with holes (miraculously they weren’t), then hurried astern, bucket in hand, to put out the flames.
WHOOMPH! WHOOMPH! BOOOOOOOM!
More singleships exploded. Kaza, rising once again from the deck, glanced at the object at his feet. He knew what it was. Feeling great anger well up in him, and without thinking, he placed the bomb into the bucket, and, grasping the handle and spinning in place, launched it and its contents hammer throw-style back towards the wall of flames. He yelled as he released it; it flew in a low arc into the fire. A second later:
The flames on deck still threatened; he had already spied the second bucket at the foot of the four steps that led into the cabin. He grabbed it, dipped it overboard, and doused them with no trouble.
As he hurried about securing the sails and setting course (he veered to starboard out of the direct breeze) he tried not to think about what waited for him just ahead. The Gyssian warships were monstrous in size, unbelievable, terrifying. The bay was filled with them, and with smaller ships; he would have to sail straight through all of them—somehow—to open ocean.
WHOOOMPH! BOOOOM! BOOOOOOOOM! BOOOM!
Chest-concussing mushroom clouds of destruction rose like angry bright trees into the night. The wall of flame engulfing the docks burned madly: not the aged and slow flames consuming the last of the city, but young ones, voracious and violent, gobbling up the oil at their feet and exulting with the explosions. Kaza dropped to his butt to wait them out, hands over his ears. Convinced a minute later that more weren’t coming, he stood and got back to work, hurrying here and there as the docks too slowly sank in the distance. Once again the Gyssians’ efficiency at wholesale destruction came to his aid: there was no way the soldiers responsible for setting the docks afire could see him. The flames were too total for that.
From the sea, however, the Ari’s triangular silhouette would be starkly obvious.
Kaza’s Uncle Tozio had taught him how to sail. Tozio had spent most of his life at sea in service to the Thesean military, as a quartermaster. He and his younger brother, Kaza’s father, were very close. Kaza’s father had made it plain that he wanted him to serve in the Thesean navy, and, hopefully, to earn some of the distinction his uncle had. Toward that end, and despite regularly losing a valuable pair of hands to help around the farm, Kaza’s father often sent him to stay with Uncle "Hawk,” who had a home in a beautiful port town in the southern part of Theseus. Kaza's uncle had a sturdy old singleship, and it was aboard that craft that Kaza learned to sail. Uncle Hawk was a patient if not a very firm teacher. Not one to be loose with compliments, he finally told Kaza after years of these visits that he thought him “a dab, clever hand at finding and catching the wind.” Kaza had taken the compliment directly to heart. It filled him with great pride.
Now it filled him with even deeper gratitude as he steered the Arilyceum closer and closer to the mighty warships. Gratitude—and sorrow. For Uncle Hawk too was dead. He had to be.
Every single sailing skill he had taught him was about to be tested under the harshest possible conditions.
As he gripped the captain’s wheel with his left hand he fished the Infinitum out with his right, the blisters covering his torso and arms stinging incoherently. And now the bottoms of his feet as well, which, he noted, were black and cracked and bleeding in parts, having trekked through a burning city. “The harshest possible conditions" were what he had already endured; he had survived them, had made it to Normalas’ boat even over and against the Healer’s plans for him to float all the way out to sea. The plans had to be altered. The Infinitum had proved essential for his success. Without it he would have died before even escaping the flames and demons that had consumed his family’s farm.
He had flown from the hilltop to the boat. He had Transformed! But Transforming had never been possible for him in the past. It had all happened so fast, just a few keenly felt seconds. The Infinitum had made it possible. There was no doubt about it. Disappointment nagged him as fiercely as the blisters: he didn’t have time to figure out what bird he had Transformed into. He had flown expertly over the flames and had landed on the Ari just as adroitly, as though he had done it for years. The thrill of that moment sketched itself permanently onto his spirit. He knew as he gripped the icy talisman that it would be a moment that would not repeat again in his lifetime.
He blinked. For the feeling that filled him in immediate reply was easy finality and acceptance, the very same kind he’d feel after a hard, satisfying day’s work on the farm.
Days don’t repeat, that finality told him. And neither will this one. Embrace what you are, even if what you are won’t allow you to be the same way ever again.
It felt quite odd to him, this moment, bleak as it was: the sudden realization that the lens-shaped object in his grip was communicating with him, was directing him, was somehow interacting with his thoughts and feelings and impulses.
What was the Infinitum trying to tell him? He pressed its icy coolness against his blisters and the bottoms of his feet, sighing and moaning, his eyes closed. He knew he should probably be looking at the huge, looming destroyers. The attack could come at any moment. But the coolness of the talisman was so relieving that he couldn't help himself.
To it he thought: I wish to use your powers in the way that gives me the best chance to survive the trip to the Vanerrincourtian navy. Help me now, mystery object. Don’t let Lesa’s sacrifice be for naught, please. Please! Help me … help me … help me …
His other hand on the captain’s wheel tightened steadily as he prayed this prayer over and over again.
He suddenly became acutely aware of the wood in the grip of his left hand: the way it felt, its smoothness, its warmth. It was a fine dense wood, expensive and rare, lacquered against the elements it would face sailing the tame seas bordering Theseus—but not against the high, uncompromising
It was a fine captain’s wheel, to be sure, but would easily tear off the
steering axle in high winds or under attack. The axle was crafted for pleasure
sailing—not for traveling thousands of misons in full flight in escape from
oppression, slavery, and death. The ropes and sails were very pleasant to look
at, but not nearly stout enough to weather high seas, whipping storms, or fire
from great cannons. The hull of the Ari
was of the same exquisite construction as its captain’s wheel, but utterly
unworthy of vast distances and the mighty forces that harnessed them. The
anchor, keel and rudder, the centerboard and mainmast and truck, the jib, the
martingale, the bowsprit … none of it was remotely good enough for such a
monumental voyage away from such overwhelming hate. Senecum Ocean
The Arilyceum would have to be made better. Much better. Right now.
He opened his eyes. He did so surprised: for it had felt like he had lost himself in conversation with his uncle as he toured the Ari, pointing these weaknesses and deficiencies out to him. He was standing with Uncle Hawk, listening intently to him as he went here and there, watching him as he moved about. His uncle’s expertise had always been intimidating, his economy of movement effortless. Even more than his father, Kaza had always wanted to be like him. He had always felt clumsy and awkward: Uncle Tozio seemed to exude wisdom just by pulling up an anchor or tightening a screw.
The Ari would have to be better right now, his uncle had announced, the timbre of his gravelly voice as substantial as the wood Kaza gripped with white knuckles. Right now. And then Kaza had returned to the night of flames and bombs and warships and terror.
The Infinitum was no longer icy against his palm. He brought it up to inspect it, opening his fingers, and received a huge shock.
It was disappearing.
It gave off very odd sparkles as it faded, sparkles full of tiny alien symbols that twisted about themselves before drifting off the edge of his hand like fine powder and disintegrating. Kaza watched, fascinated and horrified … or—wait: was his wish being granted? If so, why was the Infinitum going away? Was there a wish limit? Was there an overload point where the Infinitum became overworked and crumbled into nothingness, as it appeared to be doing now? If so, he was dead! He was dead!
“Crap,” he yelled. “Crap! Crap! CRAP! Wait! Wait! I take it back! I …”
But it was too late. The Infinitum had vanished. The last of the odd sparkly symbols drifted over his palm and dissolved into the night air.
He looked up, his heart in his neck.The Arilyceum was now dead-on in the midst of the mighty Gyssians warships.