“A Demon, huh?” Bash said, incredulous as always.
Dare bristled, but Mother laid a consoling hand on his arm.
“There is no reason to believe that Babaga was lying to us, Bash,” Mother said. “Especially since she seemed genuinely afraid of whatever the hooded being was.”
“‘Demons are the skywaves to wash clean the shores of godhood.’ Doesn’t sound very good for us, huh?” Spud said, his slow, ponderous voice bringing the real issue back to our attention.
“What’s a skywave?” a young voice inquired, half-asleep.
As one, we all turned to a small boy, around four years old, rubbing his eyes and clutching a stuffed animal. The stuffed animal was so old no one knew what kind of animal it was anymore, and his gingerbread brown curls were matted from his pillow.
Mother rose from her seat at our small, dilapidated table, and glided over to the child. When she picked him up and put him on her hip, he laid a head against her shoulder and gazed up with curious eyes.
“Skywaves are waves so tall they touch the sky,” she said, and his eyes widened. The dim light of the cheap magefire lamp reflected in his green eyes.
“Taller than Spud?” he asked, in awe.
Spud smiled slowly, and the rest of us let out surprised chuckles – even Bash.
“Yes, even taller than Spud,” she said, laughter still in her voice.
“Is something wrong, Eero?” Bash asked.
Eero snuggled down into Mother’s embrace a little more, hiding from Bash. Bash loved the children, but he was a little intimidating to the smaller ones.
“I had a nightmare, and Junie told me I was being a baby and to go back to sleep, but now I’m thirsty,” he said, the words muffled. “Are skywaves bad?” he asked, switching back to his original query, with barely a breath between his explanation and the question.
Mother hesitated, not wanting to frighten the child. “Skywaves are…not good or bad, themselves. It’s what they do that’s bad.”
“But doesn’t that make them bad?” A scowl donned his face. “When I took Nonna’s toy you said I was bad.”
“Yes, but skywaves aren’t people, or gods. Is the rain bad simply because it makes you wet when you want to be dry?”
“No, I guess not.”
“It’s the same for skywaves. You, on the other hand, know you’re not supposed to take Nonna’s toy,” she replied, her tone a little more firm with a light reprimand.
He took a moment to absorb what she was saying, and then shrugged. “Can I have some water?”
“I’ll get you some, bud,” Spud said. He rose from his seat and wandered to the rain collection barrel we used for drinking water. The one next to it, with a towel over the side, was used for washing little hands and faces. He picked up the metal ladle hanging on the edge of the drinking barrel, and brought a scoop full of water to Eero.
The little boy drank as much as his belly would hold. Mother would usually limit him, but she wanted him off to bed so we could continue discussing the matter at hand.
“I’ll be right back,” Mother said, and carried the yawning child back over to the sleeping area.
Spud sat back down, and with trepidation on the air like heavy humidity, we watched her go.
“I don’t care for this Demon business,” Bash said.
“Oh, believe it now, do you?” Dare asked, scathing.
I shushed Dare. “Now is not the time.” Though I couldn’t blame him. Bash could be a major pain in the rear.
“What are we going to do?” Spud asked, a crack in his usual unperturbed demeanor.
“What can we do? He controls a Devourer,” I said, and shuddered.
“What about–” Bash stopped short. “Do you smell that?”
We all lifted our noses to the air and inhaled. Faint, but growing stronger, was the smell of smoke. We stood, as one, and scanned the area. Panic raced through the connection just as the glow from a fire came from the direction of the sleeping children.
“Mother!” Bash yelled, his voice joining those of the children, now frantic.
We raced over to the sleeping area, but I stopped short as the city came into view.
“Jolly! Hurry up!” Dare yelled in my ear.
Though it startled me, I couldn’t break eye contact with the skyline. As smoke drifted across my vision, I pointed toward the city.
“What the sno–” Then he broke off what he was about to say when he turned.
“It’s all on fire. The entire city,” I said, breathless.
Flames licked up toward the sky, and the screaming of the children was joined by howling and wailing from the other denizens of Raventide.
“Jolly,” Dare said, and shook me by the shoulders. “I don’t give two flips about those other people. We need to help the kids!”
The jarring motion and his words broke my lapse in concentration, and I pushed him off.
“You’re right. Sorry.”
Then we ran, headlong, toward the crying and screaming. Bash was already there, running toward the river with a child in each arm, and the older children held the hands of some of the younger ones as they followed. I didn’t see Mother anywhere.
Spud had an armful of kids, walking faster than I’d ever seen, and following behind the others.
“Where’s Mother?” I yelled, trying to be heard over the deafening noise now seemingly coming from all corners of the world.
“I can’t find her,” Spud said as he passed.
Something slipped into my hand, and when I turned to look, Eero’s hand was in mine. He had a cut on his forehead, and I dropped to a knee to be eye level with him.
“Eero! What happened? Are you okay?” I reached up to touch the cut, but stopped short.
Tears filled his eyes, and he cried. I couldn’t make out what he was trying to say, when a sudden lance of pain shot through my skull. I closed my eyes tight and curled in on myself, recoiling from the pain.
All four of us: Bash, Spud, Dare, and me, screamed. The others fell to the ground, trying not to hurt the children, and Dare grabbed his head, now on his knees next to me.
“He took her. The bad man took her!” Eero said, shaking my shoulder.
Dazed out of my senses, with the pain almost unbearable, I looked up at the child through blurry eyes.
“Who? What?” was all I could manage.
“The bad man took Mother!”
Dare and I jerked upward, the pain nearly making us black out, and followed the source of the pain. It was emanating from our connected consciousness.
Whoever the bad man was, he’d done what shouldn’t have been possible: he’d taken Mother outside of Haven.
Humans always pray to the gods for help. But when it’s the gods who need the help, who are we supposed to pray to? Right about now, it’d be nice to know.