Golden Age (The Shifting Tides, #1)(2)

Written By: James Maxwell



She decided to return to her sister’s bedside. But as her hands left the terrace’s stone rail, the thunder sounded again.

This time its power was overwhelming. It came from everywhere all at once, from directly overhead and from under the ground. The roar was louder than when Chloe had visited the great waterfall at Krastonias and boldly stood on a ledge beside the torrent, unable to hear her own voice no matter how much she shouted into the spray. Her thoughts vanished in primal fear as she clapped her hands to her ears.

The ground started to shake, and she fell to her knees.

The heavens rumbled around her, mingling with the crack and tumble of falling stone. The floor felt as if it was lifting underneath like a wild horse railing at its first rider. Rippling like the ocean, the ground bucked as she felt herself being raised and dropped repeatedly.

Chloe tried to stand but stumbled, barely managing to turn her body around to face her home. In front of her eyes three stone blocks fell from the walls holding up the tiled roof. Dust now filled the villa’s interior; she heard a splintering crash of wood and tiles somewhere inside.

‘Sophia!’ she cried.

Chloe got to her feet, falling forward and clutching onto the wall as the ground heaved. Weaving left and right like a drunkard she plunged into the clouded reception, knocking into a table and then lurching the other way, grabbing hold of the kitchen’s doorframe for support.

‘Sophia?’

As her eyes readjusted to the darkness Chloe felt the trembling begin to subside. Suddenly she could hear nothing but the sound of her rasping breath, and then the roof overhead groaned, tiles loosened by the tremor, only the aged wooden beams holding them up. Ignoring the danger, she reached the hall and peered into the darkness. Approaching the first of the bedchambers, her own, Chloe’s stomach lurched when she saw the damage ahead.

The ceiling at the back of the villa, where the bedchambers were located, had fallen in.

The area was now open to the sky. To her immediate left and right was solid wall, but going further into her own bedchamber revealed a ruinous mess. Clambering over the rubble, Chloe pushed her way past, heading deeper into the section where what had once been a ceiling lay in piles on the floor.

‘Sophia!’

Chloe coughed, the air thick with dust. She could see that past the bedchambers the rest of the villa appeared to be mostly intact; it was only this area where the solid walls now held up nothing but themselves. She prayed she would find her sister unharmed. But when she finally reached Sophia’s doorway and looked inside the blood drained from her face.

She couldn’t believe that a moment ago she had paused in this same place to speak to her sister. The interior was now filled with stones, broken beams, and baked clay tiles. The cloud of dust was so thick that the light shining from the night sky overhead showed particles swirling and swimming like sea creatures.

She continued calling her sister’s name and then, unbelievably, impossibly, she heard a thin voice wailing from under the pile.

‘Sophia?’

Following the voice, Chloe threw herself at the tiles, scrabbling at the debris and tossing rubble to one side in frantic haste. She picked up a rectangular stone and lifted it with all her strength, then cast it away before grabbing another, tearing her fingernails in the process. She worked in a frenzy, her teeth gritted and every movement focused on freeing her sister.

Chloe knew that if another tremor came, whatever was keeping her sister alive, holding her safe from the weight above, would shift . . . and Sophia would die.

Time passed, stretching into endless labored breaths as Chloe wheezed and gasped. She choked on the dust. Her heart hammered in her chest. She prayed to the gods that the last of the quake was past.

She didn’t know how long she fought against time and the prospect of another tremor before she saw a patch of pale skin and then a slender leg. With renewed vigor she lifted still more tiles and carried away the heavy stones, fighting the burning fatigue in her back and shoulders.

Chloe then saw what it was that had saved her sister’s life at the same time as she saw Sophia’s agonized face. A black wooden beam from the ceiling lay across the girl’s chest. Two stones from the wall, bigger than those Chloe had encountered so far, leaned diagonally against the beam, creating a space that had saved Sophia from the devastation when the ceiling fell. There was a stone right next to her head. If it had fallen two inches further she would have been killed.

‘Sophia! Look at me.’

Like Chloe, Sophia had dark hair, a wide mouth, and an upturned nose. In temperament Sophia was more carefree and she had dimples when she smiled. But now her face was filled with pain and, above all, terror.

‘I can’t . . . breathe.’

The beam that pinned Sophia down was as thick as Chloe’s waist and long enough to span the entire width of the chamber. Chloe could try to lift it by one end, but if she did, it would add pressure to her sister’s chest, and there was a good chance she would dislodge the two leaning stones from the wall, which were definitely too large for her to move.

Sophia whimpered as Chloe looked on helplessly, wondering what she should do. Her heart sank as she realized she could never free her sister alone.

‘Sophia, listen to me. I need help. I can’t do this on my own. I have to go but I will return.’

Sophia nodded weakly.

Still fearing that another tremor would come at any moment, Chloe left the chamber and clambered over the debris in the hallway to run back to the terrace. From the direction of nearby houses she could hear screams, cries for help, and the rough voices of men coordinating their efforts. The city’s largest structures appeared mostly intact, with the temples lofty and indomitable as ever, but a plaintive wail told the story of at least one casualty. Revealed in the starlight, she spied several other houses with collapsed roofs.

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