The Fifth Season
Power in, power out. To keep the power in, though, to not turn the valley’s aquifer into a geyser or shatter the ground into rubble, takes an effort that makes your teeth and the backs of your eyes ache. You walked a long time to try to burn off some of what you took in, but it still brims under your skin even as your body grows weary and your feet hurt. You are a weapon meant to move mountains. A mere walk can’t take that out of you.
    Still, you walked until darkness fell, and then you walked some more, and now you’re here, huddled and alone at the edge of an old fallow field. You’re afraid to start a fire, even though it’sgetting cool. Without a fire you can’t see much, but also nothing can see you: a woman alone, with a full pack and only a knife to defend herself. (You’re not helpless, but an attacker wouldn’t know that till it was too late, and you’d rather not kill anyone else today.) In the distance you can see the dark arc of a highroad, rising above the plains like a taunt. Highroads usually have electric lanterns, courtesy of Sanze, but you’re not surprised this one’s dark: Even if the shake from the north hadn’t occurred, Seasonal standard procedure is to shut down all nonessential hydro and geo. It’s too far to be worth the detour, anyway.
    You’re wearing a jacket, and there’s nothing to fear in the field but mice. Sleeping without a fire won’t kill you. You can see relatively well anyway, despite the lack of fire or lanterns. Rippling bands of clouds, like hoed rows in the garden you once kept, have covered the sky above. They’re easy to see because something to the north has underlit the clouds in bands of redglow and shadow. When you stare that way, there’s an uneven line of mountains against the northern horizon, and the flicker of a distant bluish gray obelisk where its lower tip peeks through a knot of clouds, but these things tell you nothing. Closer by there’s a flitter of what might be a colony of bats out feeding. Late for bats, but all things change during a Season, the stonelore warns. All living things do what they must to prepare, and survive.
    The source of the glow is beyond the mountains, as if the setting sun went the wrong way and got stuck there. You know what’s causing this glow. It must be an awesome thing to see up close, that great terrible rent spewing fire into the sky, except you don’t ever want to see it.
    And you won’t, because you’re heading south. Even if Jija hadn’t started out going in that direction, he would surely have turned south after the shake from the north passed through. That’s the only sane way to go.
    Of course, a man who would beat his own child to death might not still fit the label of sane . And a woman who found that child and stopped thinking for three days… hmm, not you, either. Nothing to do but follow your crazy, though.
    You’ve eaten something from your pack: cachebread smeared with salty akaba paste from the jar you stuffed into it a lifetime and a family ago. Akaba keeps well after it’s opened, but not forever, and now that you’ve opened it you’ll have to eat it for the next few meals until it’s gone. That’s okay because you like it. You’ve drunk water from the canteen that you filled a few miles back, at a roadhouse’s well pump. There’d been people there, several dozen, some of them camping around the roadhouse and some of them just stopping there briefly. All of them had the look you’re starting to identify as slow-building panic. Because everyone’s finally begun to realize what the shake and the redglow and the clouded sky all mean, and to be outside of a community’s gates at a time like this is—in the long run—a death sentence, except for a handful who are willing to become brutal enough or depraved enough to do what they must. Even those only have a chance at survival.
    None of the people at the roadhouse wanted to believe they had that in them, you saw as you looked around,

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