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*19*

"Well all die!" shouted priest Det-Bleen, the ships identifying bells and drums a peal of thunder beneath his words. Every day, he tried some variation on the same argument with Keenir.

"No doubt," said the captain, lowering his bulk onto his dayslab, angled above his worktable. His tail had grown enough to just touch the deck now. "Eventually."

"But this is madness," said Bleen. "Absolute madness. No ship has ever sailed this far past the Face of God. Soon the Face will set completely then we really will be without Gods protection."

"How do you know that?"

Bleens mouth dropped open in surprise at the audacity of the question. After a moment, he spluttered, "Why, it is written!"

Keenir rearranged some sheets of leather on his worktable. "Young Afsan tells me that just because something is written doesnt mean its so."

"Afsan? Whos that?"

"The boy who led the killing of Kal-ta-goot. The apprentice astrologer."

"A boy? Who cares what a boy thinks? I am a priest; I carry the authority of Det-Yenalb."

"And Det-Yenalb told you we shouldnt continue to the east?"

"No one told me that. I read it in the scriptures; youd know it, too, if youd read the holy words."

Keenir decided lying down wasnt the right posture for this debate. Waiting for the ship now rolling on a wave to steady, he brought himself back to his feet and groped for his walking stick. "Oh, I know the holy words, Bleen. And the water of the River is like unto a path; yea, it is the path to God. But go ye not beyond Gods purview, for there lies only God knows what. Doesnt say anything about danger; just that whats there is unknown."

"The unknown is always to be feared."

"Well, why not ask your God?"

Bleens tail swished left and right. "What?"

"Ask your God. Thats Her, isnt it? Mostly submerged below the horizon?" Keenir gestured at the aft bulkhead. "Go up on deck and ask for a sign that we should not continue."

"Surely the arrival of the sea-serpent was a sign. Two Quintaglios are dead because of it."

"But Id encountered Kal-ta-goot once before, back on the other side of this line you draw, back when the Face of God was still rising in the sky. What was that monster a sign of then?"

"How should I know?" said Bleen.

"How should you know? Portents and omens are your stock-in-trade. How can the serpent be a warning not to enter these waters if when I first encountered it, when it did this" Keenir gestured at his tail "it was in waters you consider safe, waters your whole religion insists that we travel?"

"My God, Keenir? My religion? Its your religion, too, I believe. Unless youre not a disciple of the Five Hunters, are you?"

"Theres much to admire in that ancient system."

"It was a false system, one that didnt acknowledge the true God."

Keenir shook his head. "The Lubalite religion puts personal excellence foremost. Skill at the hunt, purging violence through killing ones own food, the camaraderie of the pack. Even your religion makes much of that camaraderie. Isnt it what were all waiting to get into heaven for? Well, the Lubalites had it every day, here in this life."

"How dare you compare the one true religion to that ancient cult!"

Keenir walked across the room, cane ticking. "I meant no disrespect."

Bleen shook his head. "This Afsan is a powerful force, it seems. Ive never heard you talk like this before."

"We all change with the passing of the days."

Bleen narrowed his eyes, and sought some insight in the dark orbs of the captain. "But, Keenir, what if youre wrong?"

"Then Im wrong."

"And were dead."

"A ship is a dangerous place. I make life-and-death decisions every day."

"But never one so foolhardy as this."

They were interrupted by the clicking of claws against copper sheeting. "Permission to enter your territory?" asked a voice muffled by thick wood.

"Hahat dan," barked Keenir.

The door swung open and in came Nor-Gampar, commander of the current deck watch. He glanced nervously at the priest, then said to Keenir: "You wanted to be told just before it was going to happen."

Keenir bowed in gratitude. "Come along, Bleen." The captain shouldered through the doorway, following Gampar up the ramp and onto the deck.

It was early night, the breeze cool and steady, the sky illuminated by six bright moons, ranging from thick crescents to almost full. Keenir looked to the rear, across the wide aft deck of the Dasheter. The trailing edge of the Face of God, an anilluminated dome, sat on the western horizon, far, far away.

Prince Dybo, Afsan, and several others were on deck, watching. Anticipation or apprehension was running high. Young Afsans claws were extending and retracting in spasms; Dybos were fully unsheathed on his left hand but somehow kept in check on his right.

Keenir looked at Bleen. The priest was tipped over from the waist, balancing his horizontally held torso with his stiff tail: the posture of penance, of one walking the replica River that bisected a Hall of Worship. Asking forgiveness already, Keenir thought. But then he looked more closely at Bleen, saw that his glistening dark orbs were reflecting the six moons oddly ah, his eyes were tracking left and right, scanning the horizon, as if looking for the sign Keenir had suggested he seek, some proof that God really did disapprove of this journey.

But Bleen remained silent, presumably not finding what he wanted so desperately to see. Keenir turned back to the tiny remaining part of the Face of God, slipping slowly, ever so slowly, beneath the distant waves.

And at last it was gone. Keenir suspected that since the Face had been mostly unilluminated when it sank beneath the waves, the Godglow would not last long, and indeed it did not. After a short time there was no sign that the Face of God had ever been there.

Dasheter sailed on into the night.


| Far-Seer | c



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