Out of Scarlight

By Liz Williams

Scarlight sits in a narrow valley, at a point where the Yss river is channeled between steps of stone, and cascades down to the canals of the plains in a series of dramatic chasms. At the top of Scarlight itself, an ancient arched bridge sits over one of these waterfalls, which then plummets several hundred feet to a dark pool, and on down through the town. Scarlight is one of those nexus places, where many roads meet, and they say that the pool is filled with the bones of those who have upset the lords of Scarlight.

The pursuer rode a green beast, one of the burrow-dwelling things that live in the hills of Ithness, and it was therefore a long way from home. Part reptile, part cat, it leaped along sinuously, and I could see its rider casting the malefic incantations that the sorcerers of Ithness are wont to employ, hurling poisons like bolts.

The Shan-hai called on the carrion spirits of the wind. They use an older tongue for these ceremonies, a language that has been dead for thousands of years and has nothing to do with the builders of the canals or the cities of the plain. It is wilder, stranger, not at all human. It made my skin crawl to hear it, and yet it filled me with a strange ascetic sense of longing : the reverse of the sex-songs that they sing in the palaces to inflame all those who hear them. This spoke of purity and deliberate isolation. Perhaps it was what I needed. I became lost in the thin harmonies, as the priestess berated or cajoled or implored the carrion gods; I did not know which. But then I became aware that someone was close to my shoulder. Casually, I turned.

scène extraterrestre

Un rêve extraterrestre. Illustration : Megan Jorgensen

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