The day the world changed started up the same way it always did. Naida led Twitch and Bruiser on leads and walked through the village and people opened their pens and their goats came tumbling out to join them. Isocratis made rude kissing noises behind her, leaning on the doorframe. She’d not managed to swallow her pease and leave before he came down. “You’re almost old enough to futter!” he called after her. “Except who would want to stick his thing into a mud-puddle I don’t--” His father’s hand came out of the dark behind him and clouted him in the back of his head.
“Shut up, boy. You’re showing the village exactly how stupid you are!”
“But… Father!” He ducked under his father’s stick and slid outside the cottage. Isocratis the Older’s stick came around again and Naida had to smile to herself as Issie’s punishment for being a nasty boy faded behind her. If he didn’t quit talking his father would really beat him.
The flock grew as she walked through, getting louder and more excited. They were wild today. Even Bruiser gave her trouble. They were crazy and wouldn’t settle, even when they were in the high meadow though they did calm down a little. Naida wondered if she should have stopped to borrow Phanes’s herd-bitch Aggie, because they were misbehaving so.
She tucked her lunch away, bowed toward the shrine and sat down on her rock. The whole flock ran all around the meadow as if from something chasing them. Then they huddled all around her, making distressed noises.
Naida realized that the strange little goat was there, right under her hand. “What’s happening?” She asked out loud, but no one answered. Then, under the red dawn light of the Belt, everything went still, even the insects. The goats cowered down all around her, the strange goat half across her lap one direction, Twitch from the other side. It was so still she could hear her own heart. She stared out to the horizon, to the dim blue islands. Even the sea was dead flat.
Her heart pounded and suddenly she was afraid, more afraid than when the ladder went, more afraid than when the harpies flew in. Her belly cramped. It was as though even the air was still, too still to move into her lungs, as if she were drowning in slow fear. There was a strange and hollow groan from all around her as though the mountain were shifting in its bed in the sea and every dog in the village below screamed. The goats tried to get flatter, the birds and even a distant flock of harpies burst out of the trees, screeching panic.
In the purplish and hazy ocean, one of the distant islands, that had been a featureless bump for her whole life, crumpled slowly so slowly that it seemed to fold outward faster than it crushed, in eerie silence. It grew and grew as if the island itself expanded, ballooning outward and upward.
Then it belched a column of fire. Slow and massive billows of black and grey clouds poured up into the sky, hill sized, then mountain sized, then storm sized and dyed red as blood from the Belt light, hard edged with white and blue. Lightning cut through the mushroom shaped ash cloud in a blue-white crown of spines. More. And more. And more. It just didn’t stop.
The ground heaved and heaved again, waves of land undulating and trees rocking wildly, some ripping loose and crashing down, tangled together as their roots under the thin earth broke with crackling, tearing noises.
Naida tried to stand up, but the terrified goats held her down and it was good that they did. Even as the monster cloud billowed up into the sky, a howling, hot, thunderous wind roared over them. She flung her hands up over her face, clenched her eyes shut as her tunic flapped and snapped and for a moment she couldn’t breathe because it was so hot. And then the earth under her began rolling again as though the ground was a feather bed being shaken up by a housekeeper up and down and up again in heaving billows that made her suddenly sick.
As she and the goats rose and fell on the breathing earth she could see people running out of the houses below, falling down to their knees as the earthwaves crashed through. Earth fell off the mountain, not in little avalanches but whole rivers of stones. The whole cliff side broke away, and fell over, crushing the wheatfields and olive trees below, and buried four houses completely.
She could see people scrambling up the hillside away from the sea, pulling themselves along with their hands as they rode the melting earth. Pero and Icarus held Zeno between them, but she shook them off, waving them up the mountain. Naida could see them trying to argue and somehow there was a goat down there with her. It was the little goat she’d saved, gold foot gleaming in the strange light. Pero went to help his mother and Icarus grabbed one of the twins from Irilla so she could run faster.
The Great One appeared on Zeno’s other side as she cut her forearms, blood running down as she raised her arms and a wedge of stillness broke either side of her, giving people a chance to run, letting people get away.
Yalenda snatched up her basket, stooped to grab and pulled Scaliana up from where she crouched with her apron thrown over her head.
Naida screamed, and screamed but with all the noise she couldn’t even hear herself and only knew that her mouth was open and her throat hurt. Hypatos and Kleon managed to stagger up to standing, one on either side of Zeno – where did the Great Ones go? – she sank to her knees and Oios crawled over to her, as the sea drained away leaving behind the boulders that were normally underwater, even at low tide, suddenly steaming in the brutal sun.
On what had been the sea bottom, in the tumble of volcanic rocks, fish flapped and wiggled and died.
Zeno and Oios lay in a spreading pool of blood, the Great One stood between them shrieking at the sky, but the wedge of calm spread from them, just enough, just a thin slice of safety, so Afaris could run.
No one could hear Naida screaming, even as the earth began to shake again. She struggled to her feet trying to see what was happening, people below were hidden in clouds of dust now, vague shadows that squirmed like worms up the mountain, away from the sea.
The goats pressed all around her, she could see a long, low ridge from horizon to horizon. The water coming back, a huge wave humping up higher and higher as it came.
Kraken, normally deep sea and not able to hunt near the shore, leaped up and out of the wave, their mantles spread like snotty gray wings, snatching prey churned up from the sea bottom. No one could see, no one could hear this all coming, but Naida. She screamed and screamed trying to warn the village, her family, but they were too far away.
“Mama Zeno! Mama! Papa Oios! Papa! No!”
She couldn’t stop it happening, she couldn’t warn anyone, and when a voice shouted, practically in her ear, “HIDE IN THE SHRINE! RUN! RUN! WHEN IT WASHES UP LIKE THAT KRAKEN CAN FLY!” turned and ran, stumbling over goats who leaped up and streamed after her, panicking.