THEY SAY YOU CAN SAIL A THOUSAND MILES along the island chain of the Myriad, from the frosty shores of the north to the lush, sultry islands of the south. They say that the islanders are like the red crabs that race along the shores—hardy, unpredictable, and as happy in the water as out of it.
They say that the ocean around the Myriad has its own madness. Sailors tell of great whirlpools that swallow boats and of reeking, ice-cold jets that bubble to the surface and stop the hearts of swimmers. Black clouds suddenly boil into existence amid flawless skies.
They say that there is a dark realm of nightmares that lies beneath the true sea. When the Undersea arches its back, the upper sea is stirred to frenzy.
They say that the Undersea was the dwelling place of the gods.
They say many things of the Myriad, and all of them are true.
The gods were as real as the coastlines and currents and as merciless as the winds and whirlpools. The Glass Cardinal throttled galleons with translucent tendrils. The Red Forlorn floated like a cloud of blood in the water. Kalmaddoth howled with a razor lattice instead of a mouth. Dolor lurched through the water, kicking with dozens of human legs. The Hidden Lady waited in the silent deeps, shrouded by her own snaking hair. Now and then, one would rise from the Undersea and appear in the pale light of day, devouring schooners, smashing ports to splinters, and etching their shapes into the nightmares of all. Some of them sang as they did so.
For centuries, the gods ruled the Myriad through awe and terror, each with its own cluster of islands as territory. Human sacrifices were hurled into the waters to appease them, and every boat was painted with pleading eyes to entreat their mercy. They were served, feared, and adored.
Then, without warning, the gods turned on each other.
It took barely a week for them to tear one another apart—a week of tidal waves and devastation. Many hundreds of islanders lost their lives. By the end, no living gods remained, only vast corpses rolling in the deep. Even thirty years after this Cataclysm, nobody knows why it happened. The gods are still mysterious, though the fear of them is slowly waning.
They say that a coin-sized scrap of dead god can make your fortune, if the powers it possesses are strange and rare enough and if you are brave enough to dive for them.
This is also true.
"ARE YOU SURE THIS IS SAFE?" ASKED THE visiting merchant, struggling up the ladder that scaled the makeshift wooden tower. "I thought you'd arranged me a place on one of those boats!"
"All the boats are full," Hark told him glibly, as he clambered up behind him. "The governor and his friends, and all the rich men who paid for the expedition, and their families, they took all the seats—no room left!" For all he knew, this might even be true. He hadn't actually checked. "Besides, seats in those boats cost more than your eyes. This is a tenth of the price, and the view is
By the time they reached the top, the merchant was out of breath and patting his face with a handkerchief. The man who owned the rickety tower guided the merchant and Hark to two cramped and precarious seats and took payment for both from the merchant. The cold wind blew, making the structure creak, and the merchant flinched, clutching his hat to his head. He didn't notice the tower owner discreetly giving Hark a wink and his commission.
The ten-foot wooden towers were wheeled out only on festival days or markets. They were not in fact particularly safe, and Hark knew they would become even less so when more low-paying customers were hanging off the sides of them later. He didn't feel that this needed mentioning, though.
"It is a good view," the merchant conceded grudgingly.
Aloft on the tower, the pair could easily see over the heads of the crowds that crammed every inch of the quays and jetties. The docks had been thronged since dawn, and even the cliff tops and high towers were covered in figures. Everyone wanted a view of the great, scoop-shaped harbor below.