art by Eleanor Bennett
by Laurel Amberdine
The airship was made of spider silk, and held aloft by prayer. Monks had labored a thousand years to build it, directed by prophets who foretold the end of their world. At least, the end of Rynille. For what purpose could there be in building an airship, if nothing lay beyond the ocean?
If only the prophets had said how long the journey would take. Bishop Oyen wished that often, as he scanned the featureless ocean.
A storm darkened the northern horizon. Oyen adjusted the prayer schedule to steer them even further south. Had he not turned already? He reviewed their past course and noticed an irregularity. A small turn north, every seven hours. He dimmed the navigational sphere, and smoothed nonexistent wrinkles from his robe.
"Brother Kir, it seems that doubt has arisen within your third choir," Oyen whispered into the transmitter. He wondered who it was.
"Apologies, Excellency. I will isolate it. Tonight?"
"Yes." Oyen paused and did not sigh, and held that sorrow in his heart beside all the others. "Tonight, at the Balcony of White Stars." He did not wait for acknowledgment, but stood and walked through a black door, along a corridor illuminated by unburning violet torches, and parted the scarlet veil.
Chanted prayers, both soft and loud, harmonizing in polyphonic waves filled a vast white silken space, keeping the airship in flight. Groups knelt or stood, while some processed in solemn order between the airship's slender iridescent titanium framework. The faith of the remnant of Rynille impelled them toward a new home. Except when someone doubted.
Once, in Oyen's grandfather's time, a test ship had attempted to cross the ice peaks. When the wreckage was found a decade later, the journal said that doubt had crept into the ranks, first touching only one. They fought it, trying convincing arguments, but the arguments themselves fostered confusion. Doubt festered until the ship became unsteerable, and crashed. Doubt could not be tolerated.
Bishop Oyen scanned the throng. It wasn't any of these. Third group was off shift now, eating or sleeping or taking recreation.
He began to descend to his quarters, but Brother Kir approached and touched Oyen's sleeve.
"Excellency, we must speak," he murmured. All at once, Oyen knew who doubted. It would not do to distract the current prayers with a protest that discussion was needless, though, so he followed Kir off to a staging chamber.
When the screens had closed. Bishop Oyen allowed his heart to break. "Tipnya?"
It approached an accusation. "Only because you came to me." Tipnya, his only child, born long before this life as bishop. With ebony hair and cinnamon eyes like her mother, who had died in the cataclysm of Rynille.
"Maybe you could talk to her?" Kir said, thinking it a favor to offer hope.