The Bern Saga: Book 2

by Hugh Howey

The First Verse

“Out of lock, a key will come, Drenard and Human, arrive as one. As killing floods find long sought release, brave swords, unseen, will fight for peace. 0 And while a thousand eras come undone, the canyon queen shall bare her sun. Thus the burning war, partly won, ushers the chaotic calms… just now begun.” ~The Bern Seer~

Prologue – The Commons

“In the commons, a singular event occurred…”

~The Bern Seer~


A cold wind twisted through the woods, weaving between the trunks of alien trees, then rushed out across the prairies of Lok. The frigid air joined other breezes, and together they wrapped around the remote outpost on the old frontier planet. Residents called it a town, but it was nothing more than a rectangle of shacks huddled together under another freezing, moonless night.

Through loose clapboard siding, miniature zephyrs of forest wind invaded the homes, chilling inhabitants curled under sparse blankets in tight fetal balls. The town had not yet been named, its identity as vague and hidden as most of its residents. It existed on no book of official record, a condition many of its inhabitants found enviable. Almost everything and everyone in the collection of huts was wanted for something, but not in a good way.

And the least lawful among them—as was such a group’s wont—continued to stir at that late hour. They gathered around the hearth of a dying fire, rubbed their calloused hands over the fading warmth, and openly dreaded the morrow’s toil.

Their whispers travelled up the chimney, shrouded in smoke. In a meager trail, the wisps drifted out over the commons between the sagging huts, carried along by the wind from the woods. If the smoke and whispers looked down—if either could do such a thing—they would have seen two figures, foolish and desperate, staggering in the opposite direction.

Clinging to one another—laboring across that patch of open ground—they seemed eager to reach that fire. From their mouths, streams of breath-smoke trailed out in plumes of precious warmth. And from the woman, something else leaked out: a path of wetness leading back through the trampled grass, her bodily fluids sparkling on the dark green blades, freezing alongside the next day’s dew.

The woman clutched at the pain in her stomach, doubled-over, her feet sliding like broken skates.

The other figure pulled her along, urging her with desperate whispers.

The woman’s mouth parted; she fired a wail of agony over the sleeping village, a warning shot for what was to come. The insects across the prairie, and deep into the wood, stopped their nighttime twittering and seemed to wait. Expectantly.

The woman’s legs went numb.

She collapsed in the cold grass while the man grasped at the air for her, mouthing his own misery. The frosty atmosphere captured it all in smoke signals of suffering, puffing out in visible screams that rang through the loose caulking of the surrounding huts.

The citizens of the village were used to such sounds. The fetal balls kicked in protest and turned, but they did not stir. There was more concern for the cold air seeping in through the back than for the chilling cries worming in from the front. They pulled their rough blankets high and continued to yearn for sleep.

Out in the commons, Mortimor bent over his new wife, Parsona. “Get up,” he pleaded. “We’re almost there.”

Parsona cried out again. Her body folded in half, her thighs up against her swollen belly. She shook her head at the request; loose strands of sweat-soaked hair matted to her face and wisps of steam formed on her fevered scalp. The steam rose, along with her fever—but she wouldn’t be.

Mortimor looked across the commons at the row of huts, at the one with a window flickering with the promise of a fire. Less than a hundred meters away. So close.

He worked an arm under his wife’s back to lift her, to carry her the rest of the way, but the spasms of her tortured moans sparked through her and into his own body.

The child would come there or not at all.

“I’ll be right back,” he assured her. He flexed his legs to rise—to run for assistance—but Parsona’s hand, squeezing with the last of her fading might, clutched him in fear.

Mortimor froze, unable to seek or provide help. So he yelled for it. Begged the heavens for it. He blasted his pleas in several directions—but no human stirred.

Parsona’s shivering grew worse. Mortimor’s coat was a paltry barrier between her and the frozen ground. Her teeth chattered against each other in response to the cold, pausing now and then to grind together in paroxysms of pain. Mortimor tore off his thin shirt and draped it over her chest. He fell into a rhythm of crying for help, sucking in deep breaths of his own, comforting his wife, and cursing.

When grunts and pants of labored exertion mixed their way into Parsona’s wails, Mortimor’s own body began vibrating with fear. The only two things he truly loved in the galaxy were being taken from him. Slowly. Horribly. Before his very eyes and on a miserable, cursed planet.

A flash of movement caught his eye.

He glanced up to find a tall, thin figure sliding through a crack in the darkness. It was a man, his skin so pale it reflected the starlight. He came to the couple with long strides, bony joints poking through his clothes. His head was bald and uncovered, but his face showed no sign of discomfort. He held a large wad of cloth against his narrow chest—a bed sheet.

The strange man folded himself down to the grass at Parsona’s feet. “It’ll be okay,” he said, his voice fuller than his frame.

Mortimor was too transfixed to thank him, or even nod. He was stricken by the man’s gaunt face and skeletal

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