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What Sleeps In The Shallows Belongs To The Depths

Written by Julie Czerneda
Illustrated by Kevin Wasden

And so it came to pass, in the third age of the world, that those from the mainland sought once more to conquer the ocean realm. They gathered powerful sorcerers and built ships beyond numbering to carry them. Unstoppable, they sank fleet after fleet, razed island after island of the archipelago until they threatened Circle Cove itself, the very heart of our Blessed Kingdom. All seemed lost.

Until a willing sacrifice of Magic, Innocence, and Hope aroused Her Quiet God from Her Depths. The Three revealed to Him our enemies, and He did swallow them whole. Those few who survived fled back to the tree-infested lands of their birth, knowing the water forever cursed for their kind.


To ensure the safety of the ocean folk for all time, the Quiet God left Her Depths and came to dwell within the arms of Circle Cove, where He will sleep until called upon at our darkest hou~~~

"May barnacles crust your stinking hull," Agnon cursed as latest gentle tremor jarred his table enough so the nib of his pen broke, splattering octopus ink over the rest of what had been pristine parchment, imported, pristine parchment. He looked around quickly to see if he'd been heard. Master Scribe Caienthe was a gentle soul, but even he might be as quick with the back of his hand as any quartermaster if he heard bilge talk in his workroom. But he was alone. The rest of the apprentices had finished their stacks and left for supper. Agnon, the newest arrival, wondered how long it would be before his hand was as swift. Or as accurate.



Maybe he could wipe it. Agnon tried the edge of his sleeve, already spotted from his morning's task of refilling inkwells. The result was more artistic, but the parchment was still ruined. With a sigh, Agnon dropped it to join two others on the floor. At least his stack of perfect copies was shoulder-high. Not that anyone would read them or admire his elegant script. No, each would be rolled and secured with golden thread, by those who could afford it, or clean linen picked from a hem, by those who couldn't. Rare orchids from the Outer Islands would be affixed to each roll, or daisies, for those reliant on the charity of priests. Regardless of presentation, the result would be an offering, to be floated on tiny candle-lit rafts by pious and atheist alike on the upcoming anniversary of the Islanders' supposed salvation.

Agnon stretched and gazed out the broad window that spilled sunlight on his table. The Scribe Hall held a privileged location, a third up one of the elaborate towers carved from the living black stone. The stone itself formed a mountain, curled like a mother's embrace around the deep blue waters of Circle Cove. Its outer surface was composed of bleak, ragged cliffs—clawed by the sea and home only to seabirds. But the mountain's inner surface had been worked and reworked by artisans for generations beyond memory. The result was a city overlooking the cove, footed in gleaming black sand and busy docks, rising in towers terraced with gardens aburst with the flowers its residents loved so well.

The cove itself was an almost perfect circle, its waters rippled only by the traffic of traders and fishers, and the kiss of gulls. The great fleet rested at anchor, its magnificent ships like begemmed toys from this height.

In the distance, Agnon could make out the mist-filled entrance to Circle Cove, wide enough for three galleons abreast and hemmed by cliffs extending out into the ocean like welcoming arms. Or protecting ones. For those cliffs were hollowed as well, home to warrior-priests and their weapons. Rocks were not the least of what they could unleash on any who ventured without permission into the cove.

Or out. Woe betide the merchant who thought to sneak by without paying due tax, or the smuggler attempting to leave with stolen cargo. Not that the spells of dir-priests were lightly used—but the threat of a magical blight on one's ship or crew was usually enough.

Agnon shook his head and pulled another parchment into position, dipping his pen into the inkwell with care. There was more demand than usual this year for copies of the reassuring "Legend of the Summoning." The recent quakes, perhaps. They were more nuisance than anything else—except to his pen nib—but several nights of being shaken awake had begun taking its toll on even the good-natured.

Then, there were the latest rumors, though Agnon put little stock into word that traveled from fisher to dock hand to rock scrubber. Those were prone to embellish a tale with each retelling, loving the sound of their own voices, until what might have been real news was as unreliable as the legend he penned so carefully, over and over again.

The peace-loving P'okukii, who never ventured on the open sea, had somehow built themselves a secret fleet? A race who relied on soothsayers and foreign traders for news of the world, had somehow invented metal hulls and weapons of magical fire? All so they could invade Circle Cove—a place no P'okukii had ever seen in person?

And he, Agnon, was really a prince of noble blood, orphaned by a cruel twist of fate, doomed to apprentice in this craft hall until a raven-haired princess with warm brown eyes and a laugh like the chiming of telltales on a mast fell in love with him from afar . . .


The bellow rattled quills in their pots. The young man cringed inwardly, but fixed a pleasant smile on his face before he turned on his stool. "Yes, Master Rathe?"

The master armorer was larger than life in every way, from the unruly mass of black hair sprouting from his squared head to his temper. A temper that hadn't sweetened with Agnon's refusal to apprentice in his hall. Fathers had aspirations for their sons. "Aren't you finished scribbling yet?" Rathe scowled at the parchments so fiercely Agnon half-expected them to shrivel up and burn. "If you've no time to spare for the forge, there's other work waiting."

There always was, Agnon sighed to himself. Those in charge of the craft halls were not merchant princes or of the ten Noble Houses, entitled to servants. And the Quiet God forbid, his father pry loose coin to hire one while he, Agnon, lived at home. "I'll be finished in an hour."

Somehow, Rathe managed to create sufficient wind with his leaving to dislodge the legends carefully stacked beside his son, a minor disaster timed perfectly with Master Caienthe's return. He exclaimed in soft dismay: "Oh, Agnon. Can't you be more careful?"

* * *

Shafts of sunlight disappeared, reappeared; they filled at times with flower petals, twirling downward. At night, the stars were doubled by closer, smaller flames, floating above us to outline the dark hulls of ships.

We had been content thus, to gaze upward through the great lens of our eye into the living magic of this place and see that which belonged here. The great flocks came, silver-sided and swift, seeking the richness of the reef, dancing in the light. Others swam among them, taking as was their need, sometimes just to dance.

But time measures itself in tide and change. They came more rarely, the great flocks and the others. Among the flower petals rained wood and metal, offal and ash. The clarity above our eye diminished. We grew restless and trembled.

If we dream the world, we sometimes wondered, surprised by bursts of fire, or touched by lifeless hands, do dreams end?

* * *

Two hours, not one, later, Agnon grumbled to himself as he hurried home through the corridors leading deep into the mountain. "Next year," he muttered out loud, "I'll be old enough to move to the men's hall. See if he finds a servant who works half as hard." An urgent low growl from the rock on either side seemed to agree. Agnon waited for the tremor to end, one hand on a nearby tapestry to steady himself.

For some reason, his eyes were drawn to what he touched. Agnon usually ignored the tapestries. The ancient, faded weavings lined all of the inner stone walls, relieving the black and muting echoes, if doing little to add warmth. Living in a cave was living in a cave. Having windows and terraces overlooking the cove was for the privileged—or for those whose work required sunlight and convenient access to both harbor and nobles. Another good reason he'd apprenticed as scribe. His father's armory was located so far inside the hollowed-out mountain only ensorcelled light could be used.

This tapestry, like many others, depicted both those of the land and those of the sea. The Landers. The P'okukii. Their pale skin and paler eyes seemed to glow against a backdrop of storm cloud and wave-wracked ocean. This must be one of the oldest, Agnon decided, carefully lifting his hand from its dusty surface. Then he frowned. The image—it was all wrong. The P'okukii didn't venture on to the sea, yet these were shown on ships. Ships of war. That was wrong, too. Despite their differences, not least the Islanders' amused contempt for anyone afraid of open water, there had always been peaceful commerce between their people. Lumber and metal for fish and rare pearls, grain and fruits for the feathers of island birds and the oil of whales. Agnon couldn't imagine otherwise.

But this? There was nothing peaceful here. The ships in the tapestry were heavily armed, their pale crews grim-faced and ready for combat. Red and silver threads shot across every open space, lines of battle magic, spells of wasting, spells of blindness.

Agnon took a step back, the better to study the strange scene. The legends spoke of a long-ago conflict with those from the mainland, but everyone knew it had been with a mysterious, overwhelming Enemy, beings with the heads and habits of beasts, arms longer than his father's. Teeth filed to points! Not the P'okukii. Yet it was them standing in those ships, so many ships they filled the entire horizon. It was as if an entire people had gone to war. Why?

In the foreground, so low Agnon had missed it at first glance, was the lone ship in opposition to the mammoth fleet, riding sideways up a wave. No warship or galley, this was a sturdy little fishing vessel, better suited to chasing baskers. On her prow stood three figures, dir-priests by their robes, a woman and two men. Their faces were so well-rendered Agnon would have been able to recognize each in real life. Ah yes. He nodded to himself. "The Legend of the Summoning." These must be the ones who cast the Spell.

He leaned closer, amazed by the weavers' skill. One man wore armor, a warrior-priest. Rathe.

Agnon started at the name. He glanced around for who had spoken, but he was alone. Wait. It hadn't been a voice. He'd just . . . known.

He couldn't help looking back at the tapestry. The second man was smaller, rounder, with the stooped shoulders of a scholar or scribe. Agnon. Not his own name, but that of this long-dead priest. And the woman . . . "Skalda," Agnon said out loud.

And the woman in the tapestry turned to look right at him. The faded threads that were her mouth parted in shreds, as if she shouted without sound. Words floated Agnon's mind: What sleeps in the shallows belongs to Her Depths.

Gasping, Agnon stumbled away, then ran for home as fast as his legs could carry him.

* * *

"Master Caienthe. Master, please. A moment." Agnon followed the old scribe as he wound his way among tables loaded with parchments and scrolls, barely able to resist plucking at his robe to stop him. "I must speak with you."

Caienthe paused and looked down, his expression kind, if harried. "Can it not wait until tomorrow, young Agnon?" His hands fluttered in the air, as if he were a dir-priest able to command the elements. "This is the busiest day of the year. We're so behind. I really don't know how we'll make quota before tomorrow's celebration—"

"Master. Please. It can't wait . . ." Agnon's voice faltered and he swallowed hard. "I need your wisdom. It's about tomorrow—the meaning of the ceremony. The Legend . . ."

"Goodness." His master's eyes crinkled at the corners. "Such weighty matters call for mulled wine. Which also does wonders for productivity, as my own master used to say."

The wine was heady with spice and its heat spread to the outside of the simple brown goblet. Perched on a stool across a table from Master Caienthe, an island of calm within the bustle of the scribe hall, Agnon wrapped his hands around his cup, not ready to sip but comforted nonetheless.

After running from the tapestry, he'd done his chores in a daze. What sleep he'd managed had been troubled by nightmares—visions of being trapped, of being weighed down, of drowning. Drowning wasn't to be feared. It was the way to Her Depths, to eternal life. The bodies of those who died on land were always consigned to the ocean. Yet Agnon had been terrified. When he awoke, he would have asked his father the meaning of his dreams, and to explain away the bizarre behavior of tapestries, but Master Rathe had been summoned to the Armory before dawn and not returned.

For there really was a P'okukii fleet approaching. Maybe the rumors hadn't lied after all.

It had happened before.

Stomach churning, Agnon had waited for his friends before walking the corridor where threads on a wall had spoken to him. The tapestry was still there, but to his astonishment, the warships were little more than shadows, their crews impossible to see. The figures on the small ship were tiny and indistinct, the colors so dim he could barely make them out.

How had he seen more?

"I take it you've heard what's to happen tomorrow, despite the Council's care. Rumors?" Caienthe shook his head as if at himself. "Of course. Your father."

"Yes. The fleet is arming. They sail on the morning tide. Is it—war, Master Caienthe?"

"War?" Caienthe huffed as if shocked, his breath parting the wisps of his beard. "Whatever gave you that idea, lad? Yes, yes, the P'okukii have left their shores for the first time in living memory, which is a startling thing in itself. Just imagine the effort, young Agnon. They had to teach themselves to build suitable ships, let alone learn to use them. River captains and barge crews, taking to the open sea despite their fear. But no matter what you may have heard from unreputable sources," a pause as the scribe scowled meaningfully at his roomful of apprentices, "the P'okukii's purpose is a peaceful one."

"But our fleet sails—"

"As an escort of honor. And a show of might to soothe those on Council who jump at the mere hint the tide's changing beneath their keels." The scribe took a longer swallow of his wine, his cheeks taking on a ruddy glow. "The soothsayers of the P'okukii read portents to guide their people's future. Seems they've learned that by having their ships enter Circle Cove on a certain day—tomorrow in fact—they can prevent a doom. A doom which, I might add, they believe could destroy both our peoples." Caienthe beamed contentedly at his apprentice. "Whether you believe in portents or not, it will surely be a momentous day—the first time ships of another realm have been welcomed into the heart of ours."

"They'll arrive tomorrow?" It was as if the tapestry, with its dire image of warships and pale-skinned crews, hung between them. Agnon took a hasty gulp of his own wine. Sputtering, he managed to gasp: "During the ceremony itself?"

"What more fitting time? The city will be filled with revels and prayer. And parties—"

"They can't!" Agnon half-shouted. Wine spilled over his hands as words spilled from his lips. "The P'okukii were the ones who attacked the Blessed Kingdom in the third age—the Quiet God was Summoned to destroy them. You can't let them into the Cove. They are the Enemy!"

Master Caienthe's kind eyes chilled. "Calm yourself, young Agnon. I think perhaps you've been reading too many legends, instead of copying them."

"No. No, sir." Agnon licked his lips and tried to calm his voice, though he couldn't stop his hands from shaking. "I've seen it, Master Caienthe. I've seen. When I left here yesterday, I passed a tapestry in the hall. Yes, it depicted part of 'The Legend of the Summoning.' But I saw more than the legend—I saw more than what was really there."

The master scribe seemed to become still, the way the waters of the cove could suddenly turn to glass at sunset. "Go on."

"I could see everything. The crews on the warships. I could see their pale skins and eyes. They were P'okukii." Agnon took a deep breath. "More. I could see the faces of the dir-priests who were conducting the Summoning, as clearly as I see yours now. And I heard their names. Rathe, Agnon. And Skalda. Dir Skalda—" He shuddered. "Master Caienthe, she turned and looked at me. She—spoke."

Caienthe's bushy eyebrows disappeared into his hair. "Blessed Depths," he whispered. Louder: "What did she say?"

"'What sleeps in the shallows belongs to Her Depths.'" Only words. Yet Agnon felt a cold wash of air, as though the Ocean Herself breathed winter down his neck. "You have to believe me."

His master reached out and steadied Agnon's hands around his cup. "Take a drink, lad. Yes," this as Agnon gave him a desperate look, "I believe you. Dir Segnon, advisor to Council, is my sister. I grew up with visions—though none like yours."

"Visions?" Agnon echoed numbly. "I don't have a gift for magic, Master Caienthe. You know that." He'd been tested at birth, as was everyone. Today's magic might be controlled and contained, but it still required those of inborn talent to utter the carefully composed spells and make them real. Apprentices, called sedir, spent their youth on ships, filling sails with wind and calming storm waves. As masters, they became dir-priests, responsible for the larger and lasting magics. Such lit the innermost reaches of Circle Cove, cured the ill, helped flowers grow. Such went to battle, when necessary, using spells of devastating effect.

None had visions, whispered something deep inside Agnon. Not any more. Those belonged to that dangerous, unpredictable power of the past. Forbidden until forgotten. Lost. "I thought the Old Magic was gone," he protested.

Caienthe glanced around once, as if to be sure they were out of earshot of the others in the hall. "No," he said, his gaze back and steady on Agnon. "Never gone. It remains in the world, a temptation only to those willing to pay any price for power." He reached inside his robe and pulled out a roll of parchment. The brown, brittle edges marked it as older than any here. It was tied with what appeared to be strands of brown hair. The scribe held it between his hands with reverent care, but didn't open it. "This is also 'The Legend of the Summoning.' An older, less comforting version. They say it was been copied through the generations from the account of the very captain who took his ship and passengers over Blood Reef."

The Ocean sighed over Agnon's neck, again sending chills down his spine. Blood Reef. The home of the Quiet God. The young man strained to comprehend what Caienthe was saying, knowing it was important, if not why.

"It tells how the Great Spell used to arouse the Quiet God wasn't from the safe, tame knowledge of the dir-priesthood. It was Old Magic, the kind no inner gift controls, the kind that answers only to blood. Six young princes and princesses gave theirs to Summon Her Quiet God from Her Depths, then three dir-priests gave their lives to join with the God and send him at our foe. The rest—" The master scribe shrugged. "—the rest is as you've copied so often. The destruction of the invader's ships, the final rest of the Quiet God here, beneath the waves of Circle Cove."

He'd swum in the cove with friends all his life, never thinking what might lie below. "Is this—truth or legend? What do you believe, Master?"

Master Caienthe shrugged. "I confess I'm not a religious man, Agnon. It makes sense to me that our people, who depend on the ocean, long ago chose to populate Her unknowable Depths with gods. A comfort to sailors, to believe the Depths themselves care for us—that heaven lies below." He drank deeply then wiped red drops from his beard. "Did you know the P'okukii, who depend on growing things in soil, worship the sun instead, and place their gods in the sky? Still." Caienthe gazed out the window at the sparkling cove, where the last of the fleet could be seen leaving the harbor. "I'm no priest to have studied the mysteries of Her Depths, to have bespelled my eyes to see for myself what lies below and beyond. But even I believe something sleeps there."

The scribe laid the small roll on the table between them. "And there is a drop of truth in all tales, Agnon. This, more than most. The captain's name, Bocknek, is recorded elsewhere as a fisher from the Leewards. He existed. The rest? The Old Magic still rumbles below our feet. And," he smiled "there is your name, Agnon. Common as cormorants, isn't it? So is Rathe. And Skalda. The names of destiny and good fortune. You understand why, now, don't you."

Agnon nodded. "They were the dir-priests."

A tremor rattled their cups on the table. At a far corner of the hall, an inkpot slipped to the floor with a crash. They both jumped, then looked at one another.

"Legend gains a voice and the Cove herself trembles," Master Caienthe said soberly. "I may not be a soothsayer, Agnon, but . . . I believe you were right to tell me of your vision. I must go to my sister. Warn her that the P'okukii may have longer and darker memories than we do." He put down his cup and stood. Agnon hurried to do the same. "Meanwhile, I ask you to keep silent and come to me if anything else happens." The scribe's long supple fingers, ink-stained but strong, rested tip-down on the table for an instant, then one finger gently pushed the roll of antique parchment towards Agnon. "I think you should read this for yourself."

* * *

Petals sank and spun their way through the columns of light, streams of color tasting of soil. So many, they clouded the sky. So many, they became a shadow through which other, darker things drifted down, limbs given grace by the sea, innocence shed.

The remnants of the great flock converged slowly, timid at first. Then they feasted. We had seen this before. As before, blood did not diffuse, but fell to our mouth, coating our sides, staining the world with rage.

If we dreamed, now was the moment we awoke.

* * *



Awake, Agnon grabbed the sides of his bed, holding on as if another tremor was tilting the world. But all was still, hushed with sleep.

Dream or vision? It had been so clear—that sense of being underwater, of seeing the sacrifices raining down on his face through the water. Of being . . . something other than himself.

His hand drove beneath his pillow to retrieve the parchment from Master Caienthe. He had read the chilling account, knew of the true sacrifice: the lives of children as well as priests. He sagged with relief. It must have caused the dream.

Then, suddenly, Agnon realized his face was wet. He touched his cheeks with trembling fingers. They came away wet and cold. He brought his hand into the light that played over his blankets. Flower petals clung to his fingertips.

And blood.

But it wasn't his.

* * *

The corridors of Circle Cove had two kinds of floors, those smoothed and cleared of any dust by the ceaseless motion of feet and wheels, and those coated in the fine black powder of undisturbed time.

The approach to the Inner Sanctum of Dir-Priest Segnon was polished to gleaming. Master Scribe Caienthe's sister was a busy woman; the demand of her office, Advisor to Council, claiming what time she had to spare from her studies. This late at night, the light was dimmed to be gentle on tired eyes, but Agnon had no problem following the directions Caienthe had given him.

He'd staggered from his bedroom to his father's chambers, his face dripping with seawater and blood, body coated in the petals of rare orchids and daisies. For once, Master Rathe had been mute, helping dry his son, holding him until he stopped trembling. Then, they'd both gone to wake the master scribe.

Who had sent Agnon here, alone.

Agnon raised his hand to ring the silver bell, but the heavy curtains that formed the door moved aside before he touched it. "Come in, lad," said a voice from the shadows within.

Even as he obeyed and the curtain closed behind him, lights snapped into being from all sides, so bright he might have stood outside on a beach at noon, when the wise protected their heads beneath hats of woven kelp. Agnon squinted, eyes watering.

"A moment . . ." followed by a whispered incantation. The lighting assumed a more normal glow.

Agnon found himself in an unexpectedly ordinary room, sparsely furnished with chairs and tables and shelves no finer than those of his home. He bowed politely to the small woman standing before him. "Dir Segnon?"

"Yes, yes. And you're the young man eavesdropping on the future." At his shocked look, she stroked her hands through the air as if collecting motes of dust. "The gift in a family tends to connect siblings. What you told my dear brother tonight so alarmed him, it woke me from a sound sleep to find the cause." She smiled gently; Agnon recognized Caienthe's kindness in her face.

"I don't know what happened," he admitted.

"Nor do I. That is why you are here. Sit, please."

Agnon obeyed, his hands limp in his lap.

Segnon was no taller than he. Though the years and costs of her calling had lined her face, her eyes were young and fiercely bright. Now, she hugged the folds of her plain white robe closer to her sparse frame as she sat and studied him, her head tilting to one side so her long grey hair tumbled over that shoulder. "Ah," she said at last.

Ah? Agnon fidgeted in the chair. "Ah?" he repeated, when nothing else seemed forthcoming.

"You're the son of the armorer, Master Rathe, aren't you? I'd know his hair and eyes anywhere. Fine man. A little loud, but what can you expect from someone who thumped iron half his life?"

Before Agnon could say anything, Segnon straightened, her look turning serious. "Now. Tell me everything you've done and witnessed in the last two days. All of it—no matter how inconsequential."

Dawn was coming. Agnon suddenly knew it, as if he looked up through water and watched the stars dim in the sky. "There's no time—"

She clasped her hands together. "Then speak quickly."

Agnon thought it would be hard, but the dir-priest listened with such intensity words seemed to pour from him. The tapestry, being awakened by his father's preparations for war, the ancient parchment beneath his pillow and his dream—

She reached out and he put the roll into her hand. She lifted one eyebrow, as if surprised by something: "Thought I'd locked that away. Continue."

"I dreamed I lay at the bottom of Her Depths, that somehow flowers and—and— Agnon swallowed hard, but made himself continue "—children were drifting down on me. Innocent and beautiful. Then, there was blood. So much blood. It filled my mouth. It woke me." He shivered despite the dry clothes, steadying his voice with an effort. "I found myself sitting up in bed, covered in seawater, petals, and . . ."



"Ah. A true vision," she half-whispered, her eyes dark with emotion. "Such has not occurred within these walls since—well, since my long-ago predecessors drew magic away from the land and sea, to pour into the people so its cost would be borne only by the user, not others. With one exception," she lifted the roll and frowned, "we've avoided Old Magic from that time."

"I didn't mean to—"

A smile. "It isn't a matter of fault, but of meaning. Such visions have purpose."

"Do you understand it, Dir Segnon?" Agnon asked eagerly.

As if her thoughts made her too uneasy to sit still, Segnon stood and began pacing back and forth, her sandals making a soft shushing sound, as if they disapproved. On her third pass, she stopped in front of him and uttered a phrase in a musical language Agnon had never heard before, then seemed to await some reaction from him.

A Spell? Agnon didn't feel any different. He opened his mouth to say so, only to have a voice flow out that wasn't his: "WHAT SLEEPS IN THE SHALLOWS BELONGS TO HER DEPTHS. SET US FREE."

Segnon didn't look surprised. "Name yourself."

Agnon gripped the arms of his chair, helpless as his lips writhed around more words, overlapping and confused: "I WAS SKALDA. MYSELF. ONE. THREE TO SUMMON. THREE TO AIM. ONE GONE. TWO GONE. WE ALONE REMAIN. WE ARE ONE. WE MUST BE TWO. I . . . I . . . I!!!!" The young man found himself screaming, as if no volume could be enough to encompass that terrible need to be heard.

By what?

* * *

"How's your throat?"

"Better." Agnon didn't thank the dir-priest for her healing spell. It had been her magic that called whatever had tried to rip through him in the first place. "Who was that—them?"

"You know as well as I." Segnon busied herself with cups and tea, as much to keep him from seeing her shaking hands, Agnon thought, as to provide them both with a drink.

It wasn't every day, or everyone, who heard the voice of their god.

"No. It isn't possible."

The floor shook, once, hard and impatient.

Segnon lifted one eyebrow. "You were saying?" She handed him a steaming cup. Agnon sniffed it suspiciously. "Drink up. I'll be right back."

She disappeared through a door at the back of the room, pulling its curtain closed behind her. Agnon made himself taste the brew. It was the same as his mother would give him for colds. His eyes stung with tears and he wiped them away furiously. This was no time to play the child, to dwell on befores and what ifs.

If he understood anything of what was happening, Circle Cove, all his people, were in terrible danger.

Agnon's fears were like waves at the rising tide, slipping higher and higher over the black sand until there seemed no room left to safely stand. The P'okukii soothsayers. What had they really seen? Grim past or future? If the future, had they seen the Quiet God aroused to defend Circle Cove again? Wouldn't that be a reason for an otherwise peaceful people to build a fleet of war, to act first to save themselves?

He could see the tapestry in his mind's eye.

Had that been the reason once before?

"Here it is." Dir Segnon's voice rang with triumph as she rushed back into the room, brandishing what appeared to be a roll of parchment identical to the one from Master Caienthe, only older, if that were possible. Three others, two men and a woman clad in similar robes, followed her at a more dignified pace.

"You're going to use the Great Spell again," Agnon accused, leaping to his feet. "You, the Council. You'll Summon the Quiet God to destroy the P'okukii. You can't. You'll only repeat the mistakes of the past!"

The three newcomers frowned in unison. Agnon lowered his head immediately, aghast at himself. A scribe's youngest apprentice, speaking out to challenge the most powerful member of Circle Cove's leadership?

But when Dir Segnon said only: "You are right, " Agnon dared look up again. She didn't smile, but her eyes were warm on his. "Through you, Dir Skalda herself has been warning us. We must return the Quiet God to Her Depths. And it must be done so the P'okukii will see it, and know they are safe. This—she held up the roll, "will be our offering to toss on the water this night. The Spell of Departure."

From the somber looks the other three dir-priests gave Segnon, they hadn't been frowning at him at all, they'd already known her decision. Three to Summon, Three to Aim. Three to Dismiss.

"No," he said to them. Agnon felt the touch of the Ocean again, but this time it was soft and warm, the way the surface of the cove felt when you swam in summer. "It can't be you," he said, sure he was right. "This is Old Magic. There must be a sacrifice—"

"We know, lad," said one of the men, his look and voice gentle. "At least the Spell of Departing asks for only three. Us."

"No," Agnon repeated, the terrifying knowledge welling up. "It can't be you. The new legend, the one we toss in offering today. It's real, too. The sacrifice must be of magic, innocence, and hope. Her, for magic," his finger pointed at Dir Segnon. He stopped and licked his lips, tasting salt.

It didn't matter that he was a scribe's apprentice, too young to live in the men's hall. The visions had come to him. This was, Agnon realized, his choice to make. He could tell them to find a child, perhaps a noble one as before, then watch that child drown. He could say nothing, then watch these wise priests fail. In either case, the P'okukii would attack the Cove and their fleet would fight back. There would be war.

Or he could accept what was being offered him—a chance for peace.

Agnon's hand flattened against his own chest; he could feel his heart pounding wildly. "Me," he managed to breathe out.

"For innocence," Dir Segnon said quietly. All of the dir-priests bowed low. "And who is the third, young Agnon? Who is hope?"

"She has been waiting for us," he heard himself say, "since legends were true."

* * *

"Agnon." He heard the grief in the word and didn't know what to say. His father settled the folds of the white cloak, then his hands encompassed Agnon's shoulders. A squeeze, then their weight was gone.

"I copied this for you." Master Caienthe held out a roll of new parchment, wrapped in gold thread and orchids. His voice was faint and rough, as if overused in argument. Dir Segnon's eyes hadn't left her brother since they'd arrived on the beach, but he looked only at Agnon.

Whatever Dir Segnon and her priests had said or done to convince the Council, or if the rising severity of the tremors had been the Quiet God's own plea, the result had been this. The four of them were alone. Had he looked behind, Agnon knew he would see where their footsteps had marred the black sand, scuffed through fine whorls of drying foam. Looking ahead, he saw the waters of the cove, stilled by the end of day, yet ablaze with candles. Walkways and decks were filled with people tossing in their offerings. Their voices were like the distant piping of shorebirds, happy and unknowing.

"Here they come."

Agnon looked to the entrance of the cove. Sure enough, it was filled with the tilting masts of ships, their sails of unfamiliar design. The P'okukii, being granted first approach. The people began to cheer. Baskets of flower petals were tipped from upper terraces, raining color. Tasting of soil.

"NOW," Agnon heard himself say in Skalda's voice.

Dir Segnon took his hand. They walked into the sea together.

* * *

Petals sank and spun their way through the columns of light, a rain of color, tasting of soil. Pinpoints of fire floated above, daytime stars, only to be pushed aside by the dark moving hulls of ships, so many they clouded the sky.

So many. We tasted metal and fear, wood and anger. The pinpoints of fire spread in sudden flashes, as if the approaching night had become dawn instead, or as if a storm had broken from clear air. Then, drifting down, limbs given grace by the sea, came magic and innocence.

The remnants of the great flock converged slowly, swimming around those who came closer and closer. They refused to feed.

We had never seen this before.

Hands, warm and living, touched us. Eyes filled with wonder gazed into ours. Words poured from mouths, jewels of air seeking the surface alone.


* * *

Where am I? Agnon asked the darkness. He'd forgotten breath, lost light, abandoned time as his hands touched the black and yellow orb that was the Quiet God's centermost eye.




But curiosity remained.

The answer surged from beneath, pushing him higher and higher until he was blinded by light again, felt air surging into his lungs, grabbed for anything and found himself held instead.

"Be still, boy." He knew that voice. Agnon turned.

The woman treading water beside him smiled. She looked like anyone he'd pass in the corridors, the same dark hair and skin, older than some, younger than others. Then he looked deeper, and saw the rare beauty in the lines of bone, the will etched in flesh, the warm laughter brimming in her eyes. He knew that face. "Dir Skalda!" he gasped, caught between an honest terror and rising joy.

And a rising world. They clung to one another as the sea beside them swelled overhead, then burst into a hill, then a mountain, draining down its sides in a thousand waterfalls adorned with black sand, drowned candles, and flower petals, hapless fish caught on spikes and spires of coral.

The water calmed and an impossible head turned, its three eyes, each taller than a ship's mast, gazing not at them, nor at the people lining the terraces, nor at the ships cowering along shore, but to the opening to the sea.

"Agnon?" A hoarse whisper, close enough that Agnon wasn't surprised to see Dir Segnon stroking towards them.

"Here! We're here!"

In the distance, the Quiet God answered a call as old as time itself, freedom. With a heave that carved the cliffs on both sides, it shoved its way through to the open ocean, ignoring the ships scattering from its path. With a last mighty whoopmf of air, it disappeared into Her Depths.

In the sudden calm, Dir Segnon's astonished "We?" skipped along the surface like a pebble tossed by a child.

"We," said Agnon happily. He rolled on his back, floating beside a legend come true.

Immense plumes of every colour suddenly shot upward from the decks of the P'okukii ships, as though, like the islanders, they honored their heaven with flowers. Answering cheers ran out with each new explosion, until the cove rang like thousand bells.

And the legend laughed.

* * *

Shafts of sunlight disappeared, reappeared; they filled at times with motes of life, golden suspended dust, then at others reflected silver as the great flocks swam through their columns, dancing with the light.

I was content thus, to gaze upward through the lens of my eye into the living magic of my world, my place, and see only that which belonged here. I felt the surge of waves over the crust of my side, reading there the approach of storms, the tug of moon and sun—events distant yet intimate. I slept, as some life reckoned this state of consciousness. It was as true a description as any; since I needed nothing and need do nothing.

If this is sleep, I sometimes wondered, struck by some particular beauty above me or caught by starlight through a rare clarity of ocean, perhaps I dream the world.

* * *

Julie Czerneda is the author of many novels and short stories.

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