Nemon’s Memorystone

Author: Nemon
Released In:

Nemon's Memorystone

You're a soldier, and you're on a beach.

No, you're just a fisherman. And a beach isn't slick. A beach doesn't burn. You know there's something wrong.

This pearl in your hand, with the foil flaking away? No, no, not that.

Something in your other hand? Don't think about that. Just wait for that cold, pulsing light to get here. It hurts to look at, but you can't turn away. Just feel the waves lap at your feet, like when--

You're a kid sitting on the beach as your father gets the flatboat ready. You can't wait to go out again, fresh in love with the sea. There's a gentle autumn breeze behind you, carrying the scents of breadpalm and prickle-spice. Your father is showing you how to put the sail out. "This is called the serpent-hitch. Watch. The serpent goes around the rod, then around itself twice, then through itself, then through itself again. See? Pull on it. Harder. The more you pull it, the tighter it gets. Now here's how to loosen it. Are you paying attention?" You nod at your father, but you're paying more attention to the feel of the knife in its sheath digging into your leg; a real knife, not a toy, for your birthday, and the waves lapping at your feet, like when--

The beach shudders and you're back in the slime, under the violet sky, under that cold, pulsing light. You hear cannons. Not distant, but muffled. The beach heaves up and you slide further inland. You see a crack open up to your left and black water rushes out. A crack in a beach? Where's the sand? Not this slime. Is this Oblivion?

It can't be. You're full of life. Out on your dad's slow, stupid flatboat with old man Rolare. Your father said to listen to him. "He knows more about fishing than anyone." But there's a hundred things you'd rather be doing, even if you need to catch a lot of fish if you want to buy Oleta that bracelet she smiled at last week.

The old man just keeps talking about the stars, not how to catch more fish. You can't sell the stars, fool. "Sailors," he's saying. "Even fishermen. Especially poets. How can you tell where you are, who you are, how big you are? Look up at the stars, kid." But you know all the constellations already, now that they settled down. The Tower, The Steed, The Warrior--

But you're not a soldier. Never mind you could punch a little harder than the other kids. You're a fisherman, the son of a fisherman. The dark sphere that hurts your eyes is almost here. The beach heaves under you, and you feel a terrible rumble from far, far below. So where are you? "Look up at the stars, kid." The sun is fading in the west, and you can't see through the violet clouds, but you can see the stars to the south. You don't recognize them. You roll your head side to side to clear it. To the north, though, you turn and . . . no, they're upside down, that must be the south, unless--

The rumble becomes a jolting undulation, worse than any horse, worse than the flatboat in a storm, worse than the earthquake that--

The deck slips under you as the ship surges forward. Oleta trips and you grab her, always thrilled to hold her, always shocked at how small she feels. You're on your way and you listen to the temple bells fade. You feel the honey cake, like an anvil in your belly, and remember the songs and the first dance. You feel Oleta's warmth and suddenly look around for Wayn, but relax as you remember you're married now and surely her father can longer object to--

You stumble as the sands run like water. You watch, helpless, as the grave fills in. All your work undone. It was the fifth grave you dug in as many days. You look at your brother, swaddled in sailcloth, hastily dyed black and red. "I'm sorry, Desek," you wheeze. "You deserve better, but there's no better to be had." You buried your father, your sister, your wife. You hear pottery falling and breaking in the house, and your feet sink into the sand, and you want it to pull you all the way in. You haven't slept in days. Your hands, your arms, your feet, your heart -- nothing but ache. Your life simplified from dreams of a family and a ship of your own to digging one more grave. One more and it's done. You hear the bells in the village and look down, but there's nothing and no one there. It was just the earthquake--

But the bells are ringing. Is there anyone left? You look down to the village and there's a ship in port. A huge ship. You haven't taken the flatboat out in weeks. What would be the point? To eat one more fish? Of course you should face death, but what if death refuses to face you again and again? The bells... You get up, stiff and hot, and draw a bucket from the well. You drink and feel strong enough to shuffle into town. It's empty now, but other ragged survivors are coming in, too. The captain waits until the remnants gather. The captain unrolls a scroll and begins reading. The Admiral has a plan. He wants volunteers. Any man capable. Crown, Forebear, farmer, merchant, doesn't matter. You thought you had come to the end of yourself, but what they did--

You're no soldier, but you hit the dummy again and this time you dodge before the wooden arm swings around. "Too slow," says the sergeant. "But one less bruise today for Nemon. Next!" You hand the sword to the next recruit and sit on the bench, rubbing your shoulder and wonder for the hundreth time what you're doing here.

"Who did you lose?" asks the recruit next to you. You've answered the question a hundred times. The recruits here never say "Good morning" or "Nice day for it." It's always "Who did you lose?"

"Everyone," you say. You stare at the sunset. "Except my mother. She died years ago."

"My father, my little sister," she says. She's alright for a northerner, but her name is something strange and foreign. Maybe Evlara.

"You have any idea how sword drills will help us sail faster?" you ask.

She smiles. "You think that's strange, I'm only going to be casting frost shards." You briefly look up at her hair and her smile grows. "I know," she says. "Everyone thinks I should be a fire mage." Then her smile fades. "We'll get those bastards."

"We will," you say and nod. But you're not a soldier. None of these people are. Not until--

The cold, black light rushes overhead and the beach tilts violently. You hear a crash, like a thunderclap, but muffled. You almost slip into the sea. It won't be long now. You grit your teeth in fierce joy. But why? You lift your arm to look at the pearl in your hand. It's still partly wrapped in foil. You lift your other arm to peel it away . . . but your arm doesn't move. It must be broken, like that toy soldier whose arms--

You're playing Pirates and Captains. "This is how we're gonna do it," you say to no one. The little model ships are all sprawled across the beach. "The biggest navy ever assembled. And not just ships," you say. "Wizards, elves, dreugh, even dragons!"

"They're all terrible to work with, kid." But the kid keeps talking, moving the little ships around and touching the brand-new knife on his belt. "The big gunners will hang back here, here, and here. These elf-ships and longboats will drop bombs on the Dreaming Reefs here and here while the sea-elves attack from below. The dragons will come in from east and west to handle the airships while the dreugh attack the Coral Tower. But all these ships," the kid sweeps his arms out over the vast array of toy boats, "all these have to do is get past the airships and sea monsters."

The little model cannons fire and you hear them. You hear them. Not far, but muffled. Right next to the kid, a dragon flames an airship and it comes down fast, engulfed in flames. "Go away, kid. Oh, please run away!" The airship lands in the sea near one of the little ships and there's a blinding spark and the ship breaks in half, its tiny crewmembers flying through the air. The kid is flung away, too, far out into the sea. You try to reach for him, but your hand--

Grabs Oleta's as she shivers, beads of sweat rolling down her face. She's frail but she squeezes your hand so hard it hurts and you let her. When the first villagers started falling ill, the priests said they were puzzled, that their prayers and spells could not cure them. Soon all the priests were dead. Still, you pray all night for Tu'whacca to take you instead, but by morning he has taken--

"Oleta," you whisper. You should try to save . . . something. You pull the pearl out of your beltpouch, one-handed, and try to wipe away the foil with your thumb. Nothing left to do now. You're on target.

That cold, dark light is now behind you and it fades. The violet clouds vanish, leaving only the stars. The beach writhes under you again, weaker now, the acid stinging your back, like when--

Another sea monster scrapes the Free Falcon's port side and a fatty slug, hooked to the monster's gills, flings a poisonbolt into the captain's chest. So you take the wheel. The monster's ichor burns away the port side almost to the waterline and the ship begins listing badly. There's no one left to work the pumps. But she's still moving, still moving. You have to keep her moving. Have to get to the target. You hear the remaining crew behind you firing the cannons, but all you're thinking of is how to turn the ship to let them hit one of the huge sea monsters or the even larger slimy islands that keep swimming into your path. You keep it up as long as you can without anyone to row or change the sails.

The ship slows more and more, but you're here. The target. The elf-ship and less than a dozen escorts are just behind you. That northerner, what was her name? She had the bad luck to be wormburned so she's stuck on the elf-ship. You wonder if she's still alive.

An airship comes down ahead of you, ablaze. You see a blob of pale flesh in dark robes hanging from the airship's galley. It turns to you and writhes its slimy arms, launching a bolt of lightning over your head, the crack louder than any cannon, to explode just behind you. The Free Falcon splits in half and you're thrown slowly and silently through the air. You land on the target, covered in thick, burning slime and--

And now you know. You wanted this. You wanted--

"Revenge," you croak.

You volunteered, you poor fool. You were a Warrior after all. The black sphere has done its job and the beach heaves one last time as it begins to sink, lopsided, into the sea.

"All the ships are important," you say, still playing Pirates and Captains. "But especially this one." You draw your knife and tap at the one with all the wizards and the black sphere that hurts to look at. You had to get that ship through, at any cost.

You can't lift your arm because it's gone. The cannons are muffled because your eardrums have burst. The pearl is a memory stone you won from that jittery elf with the silver eyes.

You remember. You remember it all. And you wouldn't change a thing.

"By Tava's breath," you whisper, dying alone on the corpse of Thras. "We did it."

"You can do it, kid."

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