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The Passage of Shadows

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Life on a farming world is, for the most part, monotonous. For those who grew up on Chinaan during the period of respite following the last great culling, it was even more so. It is this blandness that makes the notable events of Emma Kenmore's childhood all the more vivid in her memory.

* * *

When Emma was six years old, the skies turned black.

Not the black of a rare double-new moon, but black like soot - no stars, no sun, no rain.

Emma's mother made them stay inside for a week, despite the fact that it was summer and the house was stifling. She told them that the air was bad, that somewhere far away the ground had cracked open and sent smoke into the air.

Years later, Emma would remember the taste of the sky as it fell, bitter and filled with anger. She would also remember what it had been like when the summers were full of heat and sunshine.

Her younger sister Olga would not.

* * *

The year that Emma was seven, it rained for eight weeks straight.

It was cold, and the water got into everything, and the women in town all shook their heads sadly when Emma got a new brother. Emma knew, because that was the year she was old enough to be sent into town on errands for her mother; her father never went unless it was really important (he wasn't like other fathers, and even at seven Emma knew that much. Other fathers weren't scarred as her father was, and they didn't touch their children with gloved hands).

The women would pat her head and fuss over her fair hair, and they always had a cup of hot sweet tea ready for her when she stopped in to deliver or pick up items. But when they went back to their spinning or their weaving or their cooking, they whispered. As if by lowering their tones they could keep her from hearing them. They spoke of Kinta's daughter, two years earlier, who had died during a rainy spell. They spoke of Denar's father, who had been taken with a cough and died within a week. Always, they spoke of death, until Emma wanted to scream that her family had nothing to do with death - they lived, and they would always live.

Four weeks later, the baby died.

It wasn't a cough; it wasn't a chill; and it wasn't the Reave, the god who took unfit children in the night. Emma didn't know what it was, only that it had been quiet.

Following the funeral, her mother never cried. Instead, she grew silent, barely speaking for weeks at a time. Her father grew angry in fits and starts, and raged in the barn where he thought they couldn't hear him - cursing the gods of the Wraith and the Chinaa and a people he called Lanteans.

There were no more babies.

* * *

When Emma was twelve, the sun shone for the first time since the week of darkness, and her mother wept.

~ Finis ~