The Alkaline Sea, April 15, 5083, the battleground
I rested for most of yesterday and took pleasure in doing very little.
The ship is once again busy with the industry of its people and will set sail again tomorrow, ferrying volunteers back. The human world is preparing for a different war now that the Annexature of Hell has expanded its territory into what was once the main territories of the Grievance Faction. No armies are marching yet but there is an air of a coming conflict.
Tomorrow I shall return home via the doorways in the belly of the ship. A new alchemist has arrived from Isobard and the journey should not entail any side trips across the tiers.
Sir Pangolin will remain here. As a knight, his place is with the army and his duty as my bodyguard will end once I head back to Tigfernapah the quick way. I hope he gets to spend the time with Amx before war begins again. They have been near inseparable.
I have said my farewells around the ship, climbing up the rigging to say goodbye to Esma who promptly ordered me downward to apologies to her grandmothers below deck for disappearing without a word. The assorted grandmothers were very forgiving and explain that they had never liked the look of Bernard.
On my way back to the cabin to say a final goodbye to Mert, Poggle, Sa, Jack, Donut, Jut and Mitt, I encountered Xenathon. He had heard vague rumours of my adventures but I did not want to tell him about our route between the Unfolded Hades and the Folded Earth. I wouldn’t know if he’d think it was heresy or start an immediate attempt to tunnel through the sea. Perhaps both! I concocted an excuse and wished him well and hurried away. I regretted though, that I had not taken him to task for accusing Amx of being a traitor. He should be wary of meeting Sir Pangolin over the next few days.
The captain has very kindly given me an atlas from Varney’s collection. Apparently she died without heirs and her possession now belong to the ship (as is the custom here when a member of the crew dies at sea without assigning an heir). I am not sure what I have done to deserve a gift as my efforts on-board had no lasting import.
I had one other strange goodbye that I should mention. On the fifth deck they have made a place to keep a small number of prisoners from the Grievance Faction. Only a small number ever reached the battle field, betrayed as they were by the Annexature. I feel nothing but sadness for them as they were betrayed in many ways. Those who might take some delight in the misfortune that befell Argyll should remember that nobody should fall under the rule of Hell whether a good person or bad. I did not want to linger near the prisoners for fear that they might thing I was gloating. Yet as I passed near, one of them called out to me.
“You! You! I know you!” It was a younger man who I did not immediately recognise. I stepped closer to the wooden bars that formed the enclosure. I shook my head and said in reply “I think not.”
“You were in that town, in Fish, with the preacher,” he said insistently, “you had an animal with you.”
I looked closer. I do not always recognise faces. Sometimes it is the very urge to look for detail and form and shape that hides recognition from me. Now though I could see it was the young man with a scar across his eyebrow who had accosted me and Sir Pangolin in the town square of Hackle many days ago.
I thought about what I could say to this man who must have travelled so far only to find his cause was false and I could think of nothing. I am a coward and I said what a coward would: “I’m sorry, I don’t remember you” and I walked away.
What do I have left from all this? I have my notes. I have my readings. I have the marvellous phone and I have with me the imp egg that was Esquin. I can feel a steady pulse from it now. Within weeks it will hatch and a new being will join me and my sister with the Alchemist Bears.
And that is the end of this account. This notebook is near complete and what data I was ever going to get from passing Mepanata is dwarfed by the finding a passage that leads from the Unfolded Hades to the Folded Earth. The Ferguson Brother’s maps cannot be read as Priya’s clever phone has no charge but I am certain my sister will find a way of waking it up.
So farewell. I commit this account to my fathers and to my mothers. May your claws find honey and your noses find truth.