One of my earliest memories is of the time my dad took me up to see Zephyr’s Garden. It’s a Himalayan heritage site, steeped in history, and people make the pilgrimage from all over Himalia to visit the seat of the sky Goddess Zephyr. Religion has kind of fallen by the wayside with my generation, but there are still all kinds of people who uphold Himalia’s reputation for being the most spiritual moon in the lunarspace. I don’t know if I know what my personal beliefs are yet and honestly I don’t think it matters.
The garden is the ruin of the old celestarium that was built for Zephyr (that’s why it’s her garden), and from the pictures I’ve seen in the books it looked absolutely amazing — before it got burnt down. You have to be careful when you go there now because a lot of the sky paths are crumbling, and it’s not unheard of for the less attentive visitor to go plummeting through the cloud carpet and into the vast emptiness below. You’d think there’d be a few signs up and maybe, I don’t know, a handrail or something, but every time somebody’s tried to improve the safety of the place they’ve been deemed a heretic and you can probably guess what they do with heretics.
So anyway, on this particular day me and my dad got there, I was only five cycles old at the time so of course I spent the entire balloon ride up asking all sorts of questions, and so my poor dad was getting a little bit… let’s not say impatient, let’s say ‘intellectually fatigued’. I know he was intellectually fatigued because he was never normally perturbed by a crowd, but on this particular day the sight of the massive throng outside the cloud gate elicited from him a word that my innocent little ears shouldn’t ever have been subjected to. I’ll never forget the look on his face as he said it, and now come to think of it, I’m fairly certain that look was one of fear. Huh, funny. Strange what you can learn about memories when you revisit them through the lens of the events that came after.
In any case, the crowd was buzzing with a nervous energy, the kind that precedes a storm or a fight, and all around I could see faces mirroring the expression on my dad’s.
‘Why aren’t they letting us in?’ whispered one to another.
‘They can’t do this, can they?’ replied another to the one.
What they were referring to was the presence of several people in blue robes barring entrance to the gate. On closer inspection, the fear may have been a response to the fact that they also happened to be armed.
The restlessness was in danger of cresting into a full-scale panic when one of the blue robed individuals stepped up onto a broken pillar and addressed us in the kind of voice that instantly commands silence.
‘Brothers and sisters, please, there is no need for such unrest. The Glacial God recognises all of us as His children, and He has sent us to guide you from the deceitful arms of the traitor Zephyr. We have closed the gate to this garden to protect you from the lies this place embodies. Can’t you see what the fire has done to this so-called spiritual sanctuary? Embrace the cold of the mountain, as it is the cold that preserves where the fire consumes!’
‘You’re a liar!’ cried one of the crowd in response. ‘You have no right being here, this place is sacred!’
The speaker on the pillar turned to address her charge. ‘The Glacial God understands your frustration. I too would feel the same way had I been deceived so unjustly. There is comfort to be found in the falseness of the flame, but true warmth comes from the Cold that Burns. We cannot allow this injustice to continue. The gate remains closed.’
I knew something was terribly wrong the minute my dad picked me up. He never treated me like a child, always letting me walk on my own two feet. But when he scooped me into his arms, I felt this primal sense of dread that still colours my dreams to this day. The crowd had evolved from trepidation to outrage, and things were escalating at the kind of pace that these things often do. I watched over my dad’s shoulder as the crowd rushed the gate, as people were beaten and dragged away while others fled in all directions. I still remember that feeling of clinging to him as we raced for the balloon moorings, the way his whole body tensed where he saw the blue robes guarding the landing. They were penning us in like animals.
‘Leave us be, we just want to go back home,’ I remember my dad saying, and it sounded like the loudest thing in the world from my place at his shoulder. In response, the blue robes began cutting the ropes holding the balloons in place.
‘Hey, what are you doing, that’s my balloon!’ cried one of the balloon masters. The blue robes responded by throwing him mercilessly from the platform into open sky.
All around us, people were running and screaming, cries of ‘it’s happening!’ and ’they’ve come for us!’ echoing into the vast nothingness surrounding the landing. My dad was holding me as tight as he could, but I was old enough to know that that probably wouldn’t be enough to save us. I know he knew it too, because I could feel him trembling as two of the blue robes approached us.
My dad spun us round to see Helkar floating above us in a balloon he’d managed to salvage. ‘Pass me Evelyn, quickly!’ Helkar practically had to wrench me screaming from my dad’s arms. ‘I’ll take the kids to safety, and I’ll come back for you!’
The look on my dad’s face as the balloon carried me away from him. I may have been old enough to know that we’d been in serious trouble, but in that moment, watching him fade from view as the blue robes surrounded him — sometimes I wish Helkar hadn’t shown up to save me.
It was deep in the night when we got the knock on the door. My mum answered and immediately I knew who it was and what they had to say.
‘I’m sorry, Selena. I went back for him, but… You have to get out of here. It’s happening. Take Eva, head for Khasgar. There’s a ship bound for Decharon, stay with your parents until… well just until.’ My mum didn’t say anything, she just stood there in shock. ‘Selena, please! You have to leave right now! Go to Decharon, I’ll contact you when it’s safe. GO!’
Helkar never did contact us.
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