Son of Sedonia

PROLOGUE

JOGUN’S SHOULDER BAG swung wide as one of the grown-ups knocked into it. He stumbled on his scrawny, six-year-old legs in the dusty Falari Market street. Might as well have been invisible. There in the morning crowd, that was a bad and a good thing. Bad because he got treated like shit and people ran him over. Good because they didn’t notice his hands darting in and out of their pockets. At least most of the time. Sometimes he had to run.

Jogun steadied himself then shrugged the strap back into the callus on his shoulder. The pinching weight made him smile. It had been a good day. A few jewels made of polished glass and circuit board shards. A whole bottle of aspirin. Two nine millimeter magazines, one regular and one hollow point. Even a small propane tank, half full. All of it clinked heavily in his bag as he made his way through the buzzing market. No way he’s gonna hit me tonight... He breathed a little easier, but there was one last thing on his list before going home to find out.

He saw it ahead to his right, piled on a high counter. Bread. Long loaves of it, fresh from the cinder block ovens. He waded through the crowd of colorful fabrics and stood at the end of the line to wait his turn. Stealing food was a sin. Prayers didn’t come true if you used sinful bread at the Stepstones. The baker called him to the counter.

“Whatchu got?” asked the baker, scowling down at Jogun through dark, black wrinkles. Jogun rifled through his bag and came up with the aspirin. He grabbed the lid and twisted hard, but the cap wouldn’t budge. Not givin’ him the whole thing... He tossed it back in the bag and kept digging.

“Ain’t got all day, boy! C’mon!”

Jogun’s little fingers closed around one of the jewels. Tiny gold lines glistened in pretty patterns on its shiny green surface. He reached up and handed this one to the frowning baker. The thin, flour-covered man squinted at the jewel, put it in his pocket, then tossed a quarter-loaf down to Jogun.

“Thank you,” said Jogun, smelling the loaf. As his stomach growled, a low rumble rolled down through the market. Everyone’s head snapped up. The slate gray sky hung heavy above them. Rows of tiny white headlights crept in long straight lines against the clouds. Afternoon aerial traffic from the City. As the crowd whispered rain prayers to God or gods, Jogun frowned up at the distant cars. I hope you all crash. He stuffed the bread in his bag and set out west toward the Rasalla River.

The Blue Ladies gathered past the edge of the Stepstones’ concrete shore, ankle-deep in the shallow, oily water with hands locked in prayer. Dwellers of all kinds gathered at the water’s edge, sending little floating lights downstream. Jogun approached the beached long-boat by the water. The Blue Lady inside smiled up at him and happily showed her lack of teeth in the light from dozens of candles.

“A good day for prayers, young man,” she said. “God has shown he’s remembered us.”

“One, please,” Jogun said, passing the quarter-loaf to her.

“Bless you, sweet boy, here you go.” With both sand-colored hands, she offered him the flower. Cut soda-can petals splayed out in colorful layers of red, silver, and green. A squat wax candle filled the center. Head bowed, he accepted it. With a long reed, the old priestess passed flame from her candle to his.

“Go on,” she smiled warmly and nodded to the River.

Jogun walked carefully down to the edge, found