The Second Sdhlain: Sdhlai 2

She sighed and looked out over the Cliff, then back towards the Zeta Enclave. The fires already licked their way out of the windows, and even the not-quite glow of encroaching dawn could not mask the fact that somewhere between two thousand and three thousand well-trained troops were currently bearing down on her position. Killing her would be a release after everything else they'd unevitably do. She shuddered as she thought of the sorts of torture they'd inevitably use, trying to get at the deep secrets of the Omicron Enclave. It would do no good to tell them that she had no knowledge of any but the most basic, the ones almost everyone knew anyway.

She looked out over the Cliff again. The morning drafts were undoubtedly already starting, as the ice far below melted in the rising heat. Indeed, if she didn't get inside shelter soon, her lack of bodysuit would make her more than uncomfortable. She would broil on the spot.

That decided it. She gave one last glance to the burning Enclave, and then leapt over the Cliff.

She fell, fell, fell, gaining speed. The wind whistled past her ears, sang in her blood. It had been too long since she felt the Goddess rush across her skin. A damn shame that this flight could be my last. Not many get a chance to fly the winds of the Great Chasm.

The temperature began to drop as she neared the bottom of the Chasm, closer to the gigantic glacier at the bottom. The only place in the world that didn't get hot enough to evaporate water in a matter of seconds, and every day the Chasm grew deeper as the Sun's rays heated the atmosphere and melted a little bit more of the ice.

She knew, instictively, that the first Shift was fast approaching. The Great Glacier did not extend perfectly straight down; it occasionally curved or slanted, sometimes coming back on itself like a fold of cloth. It kept a constant width its entire course, within as small a unit of distance as the Enclaves could measure. It was wholly unnatural, but the Great Glacier and the Chasm were the only reasons life could exist here in the first place.

The first Shift, shaped like an S-curve, loomed in front of her. She could not see, but subtle differences in air pressure told her. Finally, almost too late, she unfurled her wings.

She barely avoided caroming off of the side of the Chasm as she dove down, wings barely checking her rate of descent. Her body knew, in some almost-instinctual way, the proper ways to bend and flex. Her people had spent much of their recorded history in the Chasm, along with countless more turns lost in the annals of time.

Then the Shift had passed, and she once again dropped through a straight section of the Chasm. Now she beat her wings, strong and fast, curving her arc of descent until she flew along the length of the Chasm, staying at a fairly constant height.

Not for the first time, she wondered, If I had strong enough eyes, could I see my own back if I looked far enough down the Chasm?

As she gradually drifted to a ledge that held a cave she could hole up in for a while, she looked at her surroundings. Damn, I must be lower than anyone has ever been before. She was actually close enough to the glacier to see the crews working on it. Slave crews, doing a job that used to be one of honor. Water was life and currency, the thought of dirty slaves collecting it was a disgrace. But too many of the high-breed had died collecting it as the glacier melted. She thought back and remembered stories from her grandfather, of when crews flew down and collected the ice. Crews that were selected by the council, and were revered almost as high.

Then came the Shift. Many called it the first Shift in belief that there would be many more below it. As the glacier melted deeper and deeper into the chasm, the first Shift was revealed. Six crews died before an exploratory crew of only the most talented fliers were sent. Out of ten, one of them made it past the Shift. A new way of flying had to be learned, and it was, barely. People had started to die by the time the first ice was brought out of the chasm. Then as the chasm got deeper and deeper, it was harder to get the ice to the compound before it melted, or worse evaporated. People's spirits it seemed were sinking with the glacier.

The council made a bold move. They started the construction of the tunnel, using slave labor to build it. When the tunnel was done, no winged man or woman would suffer the disgrace of walking down a tunnel. An admission that the landscape had beaten them. Slave labor, it seemed, was still needed.

But why was the glacier melting so rapidly? Why was the temperature rising on a steady basis?

The council said that as the glacier got lower and lower in the chasm, it had less of an impact on the climate. This is what caused the temperatures to rise. Some, speaking out against the council, said that something in the Enclave was the cause of the sudden rise in temperatures. These same people had an odd habit of dying soon after. A misjudgment of the winds in the chasm, or even their wings not being properly tended to. It stunk of conspiracy, but no one was foolish enough to speak about that.

She shook her head ferociously in an attempt to clear it. None of that matters now anymore, I'm banished. I am not a savior or a traitor, just someone who is alone, and desperately trying to survive.

As she sat down to a meager meal, she noticed something that intrigued her. She saw lights deeper in the chasm. Much deeper in the chasm. She had always been credited with having the strongest eyes, and slaves were near blind. So it was quite possible that she was the first to see these lights. But, no one lives that far below, do they? Suddenly, she knew where she would be flying tomorrow.

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Last Updated: 2002.10.07.2021