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Sunday, August 29, 2021

Riverwatch

The Nowhere Waterfall came from Below. A raging torrent, it cascaded from the clouds and eternal night of Below in exactly the same way a typical waterfall ought to behave, only upwards. From a distance, zeppelin passengers would be forgiven for thinking the falls were a massive geyser, throwing its plum of water high into the sky. But as one drew near, it was quite apparent that this was not the case. That, indeed, the water was most definitely a waterfall -- if a very peculiar one.

    The waterfall charged upwards hundreds of meters through the crisp blue air of the sky, until, with a crash, it struck the rocky underside of Basin Isle. Upwards it continued to climb along the side of Basin Isle, it’s rocky skin frothing the waters to white. Over countless generations the falls had carved into the side of Basin Isle, forming a river every bit as impossible as the falls. Up and up and up the water climbed, until reaching the top edge of the basin (for which basin isle naturally received its name) at which point it crashed over the basin’s edge, filling it to create Basin Lake.

    Sade sat on a small, water smoothed boulder, which was probably too close to the sky-edge of the basin. A whale tusk horn and two long delicate spears sat forgotten beside her as she stared along the length of the falls. The rock was damp and had slowly seeped into the leather of her breeches, leaving her backside damp as well. The crisp autumn wind added a chill that left her miserable and in a foul mood. The rock next to her was covered in slimy green algae and she used her third spear’s tip to scratch a tally each time she saw a shadow in the water. The tally currently consisted of a crude drawing of a boat breaking in half as grinning, fanged Sade bit it in half. Zero.

    She sighed and looked across the water to Tau. Her brother was three years younger than she was, but despite his age had already been assigned to riverwatch. He was perched upon a boulder that was a much more sensible distance from sky-edge than hers. He squatted, all the weight on the balls of his feet. In one hand was his horn, ready to blow at a moment’s notice. His long black curly hair had been pulled up high into a bun to stay out of his eyes, which stared intently at the water. His backside was undoubtedly still dry, Sade observed sourly as she tried to push her own unruly hair behind her ears.

    Tau sensed her gaze and looked up. His dark eyes stared at her intently for a moment before his lips split into a mischievous grin. “You look like your butt’s wet!” Sade tried to glare back. But only managed to look more miserable, causing his smile to break into a giggle. He may be twelve, old enough for riverwatch, but when he giggled he was still Sade’s four year old brother who followed her everywhere, determined to go on adventures with his big sister. Even if the adventure was just visiting Boat Town for supplies.

    “Careful or you’re the one who’s going to be wet when I throw you in!” Sade called back. It was an idle threat. Everyone knew you didn’t go in the water. Too many things from Below lurked within its depths. Going into the water was a death sentence. It was the death sentence. Still, she hopped to her feet, snatching a rock and flinging it into the river to emphasize her point. Tau only giggled harder.

    “Wet butt!” He teased again. “You should know better to sit on those damp sky rocks, Wet Butt! And you throw rocks real bad. That wasn’t even close!”

    Sade sighed and laughed. He wasn’t wrong. She did know better. But she liked sitting on the edge. To see the other Isles floating through the sky above and to be able to stare all the way down to Below. Look into the inky dark and writhing clouds that concealed the unknown lands below. If there even was land Below. Nobody really knew anymore. There were only the old tales, muddled and changed through the generations. Now there were so many tales and myths and theories that no one could really say what was true. If any of it was. The clouds continued to swirl slowly, moving against the wind. If you watched long enough scholars claimed you could discern patterns in their movement. The Nowhere Fall had to come from somewhere. Didn’t it?

    A rock struck the boulder she was standing on. Snapping her gaze back from Below. Tau’s smile had vanished, replaced by deep worry. Worry too old for one so young. “Don’t look down there. Below will swallow you.”

    Sade shivered and nodded. Looking away. Below will swallow you. Just like mom.


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