Day Twenty-Eight

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THE WATER WAS QUIET when they pushed off the next morning, the mercy of a dying wind, and they paddled in silence.

The sun rippled across the water, a heady blush in a chorus of greys, and despite her nerves, despite the large body of water encircling her with threats of scales and teeth, she felt peaceful. She looked over at Rance, his face golden in the sunrise. She marvelled at his body free of tremors, of fever. Nature had taken a lot from them, as it had all of humanity, since the very beginning. But it could also give. And so she thanked it.

After several hours, they began their steering shifts. Adrift and caught in a light current, Raina watched the black silhouettes of hills drift by, punctured by trees thrust upward like spears, branches pulled backward from the water as if eternally windblown. The moon shone down upon them as if battling the oncoming day, and stars still freckled the sky, winking out one by one. She lay back and stared.

Out in the dawn, a bird trilled. Their heads swivelled but they saw nothing, searching for the cries that almost sounded human; a sweeping, beautiful call of high notes that could be heard for miles and miles. From somewhere not too far away, another called back.

Maeve's eyes twinkled with the sunbeams as she picked up a paddle and dipped it in the water, deep shadows carved across half of her face. No one spoke. Amidst the gentle waves, the dip of the paddle was the only sound, a soft swoosh against stillness.

"It's so strange," Maeve said at last, her voice slipping into the silence. "The beauty of this world."

Raina opened her eyes. When Maeve looked at her, all pretences were gone. Her words were rawer than anything the night could give them. "We left, and this place moved on without us. All the years we'd spent trying to break this place, remake it to a world of our liking, and yet in the end we achieved not a single thing; in the end, it made us leave. Humans never mastered nature. Nature mastered us." She turned her head back out to the horizon. "The planet's been taking care of itself for billions of years. We hurt it, damaged it, but not beyond its own repair. It was never too late, not for the Earth. It was only ever too late for us."

Her words rang out into the day, filling the crevices of speech-weary air, carrying in the soft wind over the water. The morning slid into the afternoon before giving way to evening, and they drifted further and further across the sea. But Maeve's words echoed in Raina's head with a life of their own. The Earth was alive, but inanimate.

And yet Raina had the distinct impression it could hear them.

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