Chapter 16 - People of the Water

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Who guards the guardians when they have lost their way?

—Bellamy Clayhaus Martin

There exist entire civilizations of beings who do not know who they are. They rise and fall through the ages like the tides of the ocean. Like bright stars, they burn for a while, then sputter and fade into the darkness, forgotten but for their bones and clay.

Some civilizations arise with a purpose. They build great cities or gilded temples of rare stones and precious metals, or make advances in technology and medicine, or gather powerful armies. These may do great works and never know where they came from and so also slowly burn out in time's crucible.

Still other civilizations, the most rare of all, arise at the furthest edges of human light. Without thought to material greatness they appear invisible in any history book, described instead—if they are described at all—only in mythology or children's fairy tales. They ascend knowing why they have come to be at this moment, at this place, and the direction they must follow to preserve their people. They develop their arts and their sciences with a jealousy akin to any secret society. Guardians. They do not stray from their reason for being and their power, like their mystery, makes them great. With discipline and wisdom they instill the sum of their hard-won knowledge in their children and in their children's children like the acorns of great trees that grow into a forest over millennia.

The People of the Water were such a race, and their purpose was as old as all humankind. But time can be a great stone to bear for even the strongest of wills.

Despite its name, the Isle was a vast archipelago. Jaylina counted at least twelve separate islands that shielded a larger one from the relentless waves of the open sea. In the distance she could see smoke billowing from the peak of a living volcano. For a moment she imagined the earth itself was exhaling shadows into the atmosphere through this giant blowhole and did her best to dismiss the thought.

The captain refused to leave the ship and would not let his crew go either. Michael threatened them, fearing if they did not come ashore, they might leave after their passengers disembarked, but with the black ship not far behind, Jaylina convinced him to let these innocent men go. She shuddered at what it would be like to be stranded there with Zyzzyx hunting them, but these men need not be part of it.

They had the sword; no point in seeing anyone else harmed.

Once safely onshore, they hiked into the rainforest. The main island, like its sisters, consisted of high mountains that defied gravity, lush with tropical plants, ferns, and other flora. Michael found a footpath and began to follow it. The path led to a ridgeline along the mountain range's spine that took them into the shadow of the volcano.

They marched for hours with a salty wind in their faces, taking breaks near gushing waterfalls of basalt-cleansed water when Jaylina got tired. They spoke little, being content to hear the rhythms of each other's breathing as they walked.

Near the end of the ridge, they saw below them a vast lagoon that opened into a crescent-shaped harbor on the east side of the island. In the middle of the lagoon rested a large, stilted village raised entirely above the waterline and appeared to float above the surface. Trails of smoke rose from cooking fires. Jaylina and Michael could just make out people moving as they went about their daily chores. The village was practically a small town, large enough to hold several hundreds of people, perhaps thousands.

A strange aura of energy emanated from the village, a power Jaylina felt in her bones and on the hairs of her arm. It seemed peaceful, yet a discontented gloominess hung over the entire valley.

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