Gheera stood at the edge of her world, at the northern end of the city wall. This was as far as she could go. No CroNulla aristocrat or court official was permitted to travel beyond the walls of CBD without permission from the Sheboss. Not that they would want to, unless perhaps to visit one of the other CroNulla forts. Within the walls they were safe, they wore beautiful clothes, ate well, and stood a reasonable chance of still being alive each morning.
Beyond the walls was a different world. This was where the AllOrdinaries lived. Workers, common soldiers, tradesmen, merchants, these people were part of CroNulla society but were unable to prove a blood-link with the founding families, those who actually came from the Tunnel after the Silence. Consequently they were not allowed to live in the city itself, but had to settle beyond the walls, amongst the relics of the last civilzation, the one that Nuhklar had destroyed. Some made their homes within the actual ruins themselves, while others had built their dwellings from the scattered leftovers. They were allowed into the city during the day, but at night had to leave and the gates were closed.
The day had been clear and – even though it was winter – the sun fierce. So Gheera had not ventured into the open until late in the afternoon, and even then had clung to the shadows. By now the sun had slid behind the haze that almost always hung in the west, lulling the sky with orange hues. As usual the haze had drifted closer as the day grew old, so Gheera could not see far to the west. She turned to the north and stared across the harbour, through the crippled claws of the old bridge, its rusted prongs feeling the sky like ancient tentacles, burnished bronze in the afternoon light. She continued turning her head slowly, absorbing the expanse of the harbour until her eyes came to rest on the Citadel, the Sheboss’s palace.
Another building had once stood on this site, Yrec had told Gheera. Long ago, when the Sydney Metropolis had been truly vast, a magnificent temple, famous the world over, had stood where Bareena’s palace now rose. Yrec was not certain as to which god this temple had been dedicated. Perhaps to a god of music, for the temple was said to have been filled with music and beautiful voices. Perhaps to a god of the sea, for it was built in the shape of sails. Indeed one of the sails was still visible. A large crack had formed in it, and many of the tiles had lifted from the surface, but it still impressed Gheera with its timeless dignity.
The scribe then turned her head away from the palace and quickly scanned the neat walled city of CBD. She knew it all so well, this tiny oasis of order, too well infact. Uhrul’s temple, the barracks of the Royal Guard, the baths, gymnasium, and the various living complexes. Her eyes passed over the wide avenues, fanning like spokes in a wheel from the quay, the manicured gardens, the quaint cobblestone squares. She saw it all, and was unmoved by its contrived beauty.
Her gaze passed over the wall to the ruins that had once been the central part of Sydney, and instantly she felt that sense of excitement again. This was a place of chaos and decay where twisted steel and concrete skeletons stumbled through humps of rubble. And yet all of this had once been a thriving city, Gheera told herself, vibrant, filled with people for as far as the eye could see, and further. Enormous buildings had stood here, giants that dwarfed anything the CroNullas could build. A golden age, that’s what it had been. And yet now, nothing.
Why? Why had Nuhklar wiped it all away? The question slipped into Gheera’s mind before she had a chance to stop it. She tried to push it out, but it refused to budge. And then, like unwanted guests, other questions turned up. Gheera tried to ignore them, but that was impossible for they shoved themselves at her until in the end she had no choice but to recognise a thought that for ages had lurked in the shadows of her mind. It stepped forward, arms folded, smug. There’s no room here for questions. Gheera tried to turn away from the thought, but it was too fast for her. If it’s answers you want, then you’ll have to go elsewhere in search of them.
And as Gheera knew, elsewhere meant one thing. Out there, beyond the walls.
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