“When the Blind Gods realized what the People were creating, they were afraid,” the Acolyte dropped to a whisper. “The Gods could sing the clay into being, but they could not shape it with their hands as the People did. They told the people that to shape was the deepest of sins, and should never be done. Why should the People doubt them? They were Gods. And so they believed. At first.”
Silva hunched in a corner of the cave for a long time, her eyes averted from the cursed shards of ice. She did not want to believe they were there. She did not want to do what the icicles screamed at her, in their frozen silence, to do. She did not want to answer the call of her dreams. She did not wish the cycle to repeat. The little tingle of pleasure that rose up in her when she thought of doing what needed to be done frightened her. She almost threw herself in the river. She did not.
After a day or more of weeping and doubt and starvation, Silva finally stood up. She emptied out all seven of her water pods, and reshaped them until they suited her purpose. It was a slow process. They could be reshaped to fit through thin openings and narrow passageways one might need to pass through on the search for water. That was simple. But Silva needed also to adjust the workings, to change the insulation. She unscrewed each of the bolts that sealed the pods, to fiddle with the insides. Nan had been very cross with her, the first time she opened a water pod to find out how it worked. She had been unable to explain to the Workmaster why she had done such a thing.
She understood, now.
He hands were very cold as she carefully snapped off each and every one of the seven icicles. Her gloves were made to resist wind scarring, not this. She placed each of them in a separate pod. Hopefully, it would be enough.
As Silva trekked back through the Scoured Wastes, she hoped desperately that the icicles would melt. When she arrived back home, opened her pods to see each and every one of them intact and still frozen, she was delirious with joy. She hid all of the icicles in one of the spare preservation units at the edge of the poisoned fence. She hid all the icicles, save one.
“It was the melted ice in their veins that whispered the truth, as it always had,” said the Acolyte. “The Blind Gods were afraid, and so had sought to evaporate the pool of the People’s glory before it could swell into an ocean. And the People were angry. They made to turn against their creators. No, whispered the blood. Wait. There is another way. Come, find me, and we shall speak.”
Nan was very cross indeed that Silva had been out for so many days. She was more furious still that Silva lost her water pods. Those pods could not be replaced. The secret to their creation was lost, and there was barely enough water for the Settlement. Nan knew that Silva loved to go out on water collections, and so her usual punishment would fall on blind eyes. So she banned Silva from leaving the Settlement for six months, and assigned her the coarsest and dirtiest of chores.
Silva did not respond. She was angry, but her anger was outdone by her sadness. For she loved Nan, despite the punishments, and the woman’s unyielding ways. But what must be done must be done. Silva reached into her carrying sack, and drew forth the first of the icicles.
The old woman had barely a moment to gasp in shock before Silva plunged the slender blade of ice into her eyes. First the left, then the right, just as it had been long ago. Nan’s body fell to the ground, with Silva atop her. Silva recoiled in horror at what she had done. It only lasted a moment, before the wonder. For what poured forth from the mangled sockets of the dead woman was not dry red dust. It was thick, flowing crimson blood. Silva touched it with her fingertip. It was warm. Not hot like the Wastes or the metal machines, but warm and rich, like mulled drink.
Silva walked back to her quarters. With each step the wonder drained out of her. She collapsed onto her cot and began to cry. Would she be rewarded, for her betrayal? Would there be real tears? She touched the corner of her eye. But no. There was only dry, salty dust. This was not over. It was only beginning.
“When the People saw the icicles for the first time, they fell to their knees and wept, returning what had been given them in their blood through their eyes,” said the Acolyte. “The drip of the icicles told them their sharpened edges and battle machines could hurt the Blind Gods, but could not slay them. There was only one way. The icicles had been melting for an age upon an age, but they were still sharp. They were still deadly.”
Melor the Physicker could not say what had killed Nan. A piece of sharpened glass? But the holes were too round. A scrap of metal from one of the machines? But none of them were broken. Nothing could be found. Nor could he, or anyone, explain why her blood flowed like the people in the old stories.
Silva attended Nan’s funeral and cried with the rest. They had all loved her. Some in the settlement said her body should be placed in the reclamator, so as not to waste the water that appeared to be within her. But the resemblance of her death to the Great Story spun by the Acolyte could not be ignored. She was separated, and the pieces burned, then scattered to the winds. As they all were, when their time was done.
Silva did not know if she could have used the other icicles to further the work, had not the next stage been so easy. It was her three sisters that fell. She stabbed into their eyes as they slept, one by one. They sank into their faces so easily. Silva felt like she needed merely to let them go, and they rushed to their destination. The last of the sisters, always the nastiest, woke up when she saw Silva coming at her. Silva felt a giddy thrill that her sister knew what was happening, if not why. When it was done, Silva scurried away. She shed no tears.
Next came Melor himself. Plunging the ice daggers into his eyes were like cutting out Sher own. The Physicker had never harmed her, or anyone, through word or deed. But it was his turn, and what was begun could not be stopped. She lay on top of him as the blood flowed from his ruined face and out around her. She cried, then, and the liquid dripped from her eyes to mix with his in the salty earth.
Anka the librarian was next. That should have been difficult—she had been almost a friend to Silva, and her creations were so beautiful. But Silva was changed, now. Perhaps her weakness leached out of her body with her tears. Anka was not surprised that it was Silva who had done all of this, when the young girl drew the icicle from within the folds of her clothing. She said she had seen this, in her dreams.
There was only one left, now. The Seventh. Did he, too, know what was coming? Had all of his teachings and his worship been to prepare him for this moment of sacrifice? As Silva walked towards the Acolyte’s tower, to end her cold work, she looked up at the dark sky. A single drop of rain fell down and landed on her head.
“One by one, the Blind Gods fell, as the People returned the icicles to the empty sockets of their creators,” the Acolyte’s voice rose to fill the room. “The First of them was the first to fall; he died cursing the sunlight. Then the Three, the Weavers of Spite, met their end. Then came the Maiden, who had healed the world when it was wounded, but would do so no longer. Then the Creator, who formed the clay of the People, but could not bring them life.”
Silva walked into the Acolyte’s chamber, the icicle clutched openly in her hand. He could not see her. He wore a cloth over his face. It was long, long ago that he struck out his own eyes. He stood on his pedestal, and chanted the Story out, though there was no one there to listen. He chanted it, one last time.
“When the People came to the place where the Seventh of the Blind Gods rested his ancient and withered form, they found it filled with the sound of his laughter. They knew his voice. They had heard it so many times before. In their blood.”
Silva walked up to the man. If he knew she was there, he did not show it. She wanted to ask him if she knew he was coming for him. If all of this was the reason he had spun his tale. If he knew, from the moment of her birth, what she was, and what she had to do.
“Why are you laughing, the People asked. Do you not understand what we are here to do? I understand, said the Seventh of the Blind Gods. Why do you think I created the icicles? And why do you think I blinded the other Gods?”
Silva never knew if she believed. Even after she saw the icicles, and accepted the terrible fate she always knew was hers, she still did not know if she believed. Were they Gods, or was it just a story?
“The People paused. For a moment, they doubted their task. Did they understand what it was they did? But it was no matter. What was started could not be stopped, until it was done.”
The icicle in Silva’s hand penetrated the Acolyte’s head between his eyes, just like the People had done to their true creator. Water trickled forth from the wound. It did not gush forth, like in the story. Silva stood there, until the icicle melted in her hand. Then, unable to help herself, she pulled the cloth from the Acolyte’s face. His dead, ice-blue eyes stared back at her. He had never been blind at all.
Silva looked at those eyes, for a long time. She thought she might stay there until she starved, or until the water inside of her all evaporated and she shriveled like someone lost in the waste. Her task was done. What would she do next? But she did not stay. All around her, the music swelled. It rapped against the tower, like the babble of a hundred rivers. So she placed the cloth back over the Acolyte’s eyes, and walked out.
Into the pouring rain.
Other Stories in the Challenge
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