Chapter Six - What Adalé Heard on the Rooftop

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One summer, Adalé's home had caught fire.

It had been dry for weeks before it happened, so dry that the stream near their homestead had sunk into nothing more than a little trickle in a bed of cracking mud. The grass had grown brown and brittle, as had their wheat crop for that year. At night, she could hear her parents talking in hushed, worried voices about how they would manage to get through the winter with six mouths to feed, never mind the livestock. She and her siblings would huddle outside the door, sunburnt faces pushing together as they listened to their parents talk about their fears.

Fire was never mentioned. Fire was never even considered, but once it came, they never forgot.

Adalé had been outside when the flames first made their way to her home, and so she had seen her younger brother come running in from the fields, screaming that the world was on fire. Her mother, who had been beating the dust out of their homemade rag-rugs, had dropped her things and run inside.

She came out with an armful of blankets, which she passed to Adalé. "Soak them in the well and bring them back to me. Hurry!" she had said.

Adalé had taken the blankets, which were piled nearly taller than she was tall, and rushed to the well to do as she was told. As she saturated the blankets with water, she became aware of a roaring sound, the sound of fire eating the grasses and their crops. It sounded like a monster.

The next few hours were a haze of screaming and smoke as she and her family had beat the fire with wet cloths. They held it back from the house and the little ones hidden away inside, but their barn and their fields had burned.

Afterwards, Adalé went to the ruins of the barn. Their animals had all died, terrified. There was no way to save them. Adalé picked through the ashes best she could and found the skulls of their sweet dairy cow and the strong, gentle oxen. She buried them at the edge of the wood, facing out towards the prairie so they could see the sky.

The sight of half her home burned to the ground, her animal friends gone, had been the worst thing she had ever seen.

But it was nothing compared to this.

The fire that had claimed so many ships and lives was still smoldering by the time she, Kwale, and Avani reached the airdocks. People were still gathered near the entrance to the docks, some simply observers, but some covered in soot and burns. The fire survivors stared at what they had just endured, some shocked and hollow-eyed, some weeping, some praying for those who had not made it out.

They heard whispers and shouts as they walked through the crowd.

"... and we can't find Nora, Boyd, or Richard anywhere!"

"They're estimating seventy dead... seventy souls..."

"... En la tierra como en el cielo..."

"Gemma! Gemma, answer me! Where are you?"

Adalé tried to tune out the voices. If she ignored it, it would go away. She wished it would go away.

The three made their way through the crowd to the edge of the airdocks, where firemen stood with their long, tendril-like hoses spraying.

"We should go talk to them," Avani said, herself stepping back shyly.

"I'll do it," announced Kwale. She pushed her way to the front of the crowd. "Excuse me," she said. "Excuse me!"

"You can't come in here, señora."

"I was wondering where I should go to find any cargo that may have survived the fire."

The fireman pointed. "You'll want to talk to the dock owners, though I warn you, they're mighty busy with requests like yours. Apparently a mix-up with the cargo deliveries on top of this accursed fire."

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