Today's Reading

The precious books Arakie keeps in Quancee's cave, called the Rewilding Reports, are legendary among Sealion and Rust Peoples. The strange half-people, the Dog Soldiers, who travel with the Rust People, even claim to own one volume. I have read the few reports in Arakie's collection over and over. They document that there were many such caverns of animals around the world. I pray one survived.

The Rewilding Reports have taught me that Sealion legends are filled with fragments of the truth. Arakie has been trying to help me pull out the threads of fact and reassemble them, but his memory has been fading by the day. I fear that some of what he tells me these days is just as fanciful as our legends. Do I really believe that he created a genetic adaptation that allowed the Earthbound Jemen to change into animals so they could survive alongside the giant predators that fill the world? Arakie says that when he was stronger, he could change into a lion, or send his thoughts into the minds of animals. I have not seen him do it, though I have seen strange things that suggest he can: lion tracks that turn into human footprints and lead directly to a place where he sits. He also says I am one of the last people who carries a gene that allows me to bond with Quancee, and claims there are even a handful of people left who carry the Jemen's genetic ability to send their thoughts into the minds of people far away.

Despite my doubts, the Rewilding Reports do document the scientific efforts to achieve these miracles. For the most part, all I see in the books are diagrams of pentagons and hexagons. The building blocks of life, Arakie says. Incomprehensible to me.

I hang my head and wonder what I will do when he dies. When my teacher lies frozen and alone beneath the ancient stones of the mountains, how will I ever grasp anything without him?

A big wave rolls tufts of zyme across the shore. As the wave retreats, the tufts shine with an emerald fire.

I need time to sort through my melancholy.

CHAPTER 2

QUILLER

Utter blackness, so black it shimmers as though filled with silver dust. One more step, feel for the ice wall, brace my shaking legs, listen to the dark underworld groan.

I don't know how long I've been wandering in this honeycomb of caves, but I feel as if I'm floating, not really connected to anything solid. Just black air. That's what I'm becoming.

"Keep going. You're a warrior. The way out isn't far ahead." Is it?

Hard to...to think. Has it been four days? Ten? The bundle of torches I carried ran out long ago, along with my food, and darkness has smoothed the edges of time, leaving me suspended in an emptiness broken only by the rumbling and quaking of the Ice Giants who smother the mountains above me.

With the toes of my mammoth leather boots, I feel for the undulations in the floor and carefully move forward.

The tunnel curves here. Warm air flows over me, coming from my left. Do I remember this adjacent tunnel? Must have a hot spring in it. The air smells of sulfur. Is this the hot spring close to the cave where my friends hide? Should I turn down this tunnel? No, no. It's just another passageway in the labyrinth. Don't get distracted. Walk straight. Don't explore any side tunnel, or you'll be lost forever in this womb of whispering Ice Giant voices.

With my hand against the freezing ice wall, I walk three more steps. Another three.

Just ahead of me, sparks pour into the gloom and crawl across the floor. What is that? A serpent of sparks, twining and coiling. Hissing. Everywhere that frightening hissing. Then I realize the sound is the rattling of the spears I carry in the quiver over my left shoulder.

When I blink, the sparks vanish, but I begin to see a rounded shape, a lighter darkness. My nostrils quiver at the mingled scents of blood and sweat, and I hear a low growl that I know as well as my own voice. 'Crow. My big black dog.'

Relief surges through me so powerfully, I'm lightheaded.

I feel my way to the mouth of the tunnel and stop to look into the cave that opens up beyond. My eyes, so accustomed to the black underworld, can't seem to adjust to the dim light filtering into the cave from the world outside.

"We've got to surrender," a soft voice says. "They're coming in soon. You know they are."

"Of course, I know."

I see movement near the narrow crevice that forms the entry to the cave, but I can't make out the warriors, though the crevice is getting clearer—a gray slash about as wide as my shoulders and almost as tall as I am. Wisely, the guards must be standing off to the side, peering out at regular intervals, then drawing back out of enemy casting range.

...

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