King Barrouk was thankful the roar of the storm covered Emzara's cries. Except for the pounding of his daughter's fists on the underside of the sarcophagus lid, he could have dreamt himself a simple sailor again, fighting the tempest, as he smeared a sticky mass of pitch around the edges of the wood. Water sheeted down around him. It flooded the mosaic-floored platform atop the low tower faster than it could drain through the gutters, rising about his ankles and hiding the sun god's golden face.
He'd been told the deluge would come. But he'd ignored the warnings, and now this was the only thing he could do: consign his daughter to the flood in the coffin he'd made for himself to match her mother's.
Barrouk put his mouth at the last gap in the pitch and strained to be heard over the drumming rain on the gilded wood. "Do not fear, Emzara! The gods will watch over you." He tried to believe it.
"There is no God but El!" came a voice suddenly in his ear. He whipped his head around, but staggered as pain knifed into his back. "And El wants you dead!" He fell to his knees in agony. Amat, priestess of the storm god El, tossed away a bronze blade then pushed Emzara's coffin to the edge of the roof, curses cascading from her lips. "Barrouk the Great! Barrouk the Builder! I warned you. And, see! Where is your kingdom now, oh man?!" With mad strength she levered the box onto the low wall of the platform, clambered atop, and rode Emzara's ark off the ledge.
Barrouk stumbled to where they'd disappeared and looked down from the temple whose foundations he'd laid the year Emzara was born. The whole earth from one side of the sky to the other was devoured, and waves rolled across the land. The princess and the priestess were already lost from sight.
In the distance, he saw a vast shadow rise from the sea, lightning and fire blazing from its mouth. The avatar of the anger of the god. The end of all things. Not one of the wonders he had brought to life here in Atta would survive it. Except one.
Emzara screamed until her voice was gone. She hammered her wooden prison until her hands were raw. As the air grew stale, she sucked at the gap in the pitch until her chest grew tight and her head spun. She felt herself raised high then sucked down. The world spun.
Something was pounding above her. Something hard, striking something hard.
Emzara heaved awake with a gasp. Brown fingers reached through and pried away a shard of wood. A man's face peered in, dark against a brilliant blue sky as she squinted and blinked. He smiled and set to work freeing her.
"Nuah," the man said, still smiling.
"Emzara," she croaked. He passed her a cup of water from a leather flask.
Nuah laughed. "The world ends, and I pluck a woman from a coffin and the sea. Even the battle of the angels with the great monster seems less surprising."
"I saw them in the storm." Nuah's eyes closed, and his voice hushed. "My ship was gone to timbers and all the hands thrown down, when the great serpent rose before me. I knew it was my death, but a voice rang in my ear. 'Strike deep with the harpoon, Nuah!' So I did, and I rode the back of the serpent like a man holding an earthquake. All around me, a host of gods fought the monster, their blazing wings and shining swords moving too fast to see. So many died, burned in the serpent's flame or speared through with its claws. At last, the serpent fell, and I was thrown into the sea. And, somehow, here I am, blessed by gods, standing on the one rock remaining in the whole wide world I think."
Nuah finished, and looked at Emzara, a vague embarrassment in his face. Emzara stared at him.
"You don't believe me?" Nuah's looked deeper into Emzara's eyes, and now she turned away. "Ah. It's the gods you don't believe in then." He spread his arms to the endless horizon. "But how do you explain all of... this?"
The sea was flat as a threshing floor. There was no wind, and no ripple marred the mirror surface, more brilliant than polished copper. A hot sun high at its zenith blazed down. The two of them crowded on a single, barnacled rock, the sarcophagus bouncing lightly against it. Emzara was grateful to be alive, but her eyes filled with tears at the enormity of her loss.
"I believe in the gods," she said. "I just have no faith in them." Something in the far distance caught her eye. "What is that? Land?"
Nuah squinted into the distance. A long, undulating shadow stretched across an arc of the horizon, like a low line of hills. "I don't think so."
They fashioned an oar out of the coffin lid, boarded the sarcophagus, and rowed awkwardly toward the distant shape. The tide went out and soon they could walk through ankle-deep water, towing the coffin behind them with a line of rope Nuah had scavenged from the surf. When the sun was low in the sky it struck the long shape, and they could see at last the truth of the thing. Sunlight sparkled on blue-green scales as large as shields, and limned the sawtooth spine of a great serpent, so long they couldn't see the head or the tail in either direction. It was utterly still, certainly dead. Emzara tried not to notice the smug look in her companion's eyes, but she finally acknowledged his strange tale with a slight nod of her head. They looked at how the scales pointed, and turned toward the head.
It took another span of time, but at last the grotesque skull emerged in the dying light. It was horned, and whiskered with whips the length of great spears, with gills the size of a man. They tied the coffin to the tip of a curling horn and waded through the shallows to see its face.
The sound of another human voice made them step back, but they'd already been seen. "And lo! The harlot will rise from the sea as a sign of sin, and you will know the end has come!" Amat, the priestess of El, stood tall in the rags of her robes and cast a bony finger at Emzara. "The king is dead, Princess, and all his works. Condemned by my God. His bane sleeps here before you. Bow down, or be consumed!"
Nuah glanced at Emzara. "King? You are a princess?"
She grimaced. "Of a land beneath the sea now. Golden Atta. The land my father built."
"Barrouk the Sailor! Yes, I saw him once when I was just a lad swabbing decks. A great buccaneer." Nuah took in Emzara with a new light in his eyes. She gave him a haughty glance in return. He laughed. "A king from a simple sailor. I'd say such a man was blessed!"
Amat turned back to the head of the beast. "Rise, Leviathan, rise and destroy those who would mock the God!"
Nuah looked a question at Amzara. "She wasn't always like this," she sighed. "I remember when she used to bounce me on her knee. She helped my father forge Atta as one people after he took the city. That was before I was born, of course. But she was a friend."
"No friend to sinners!" screeched the priestess. "No friend to adulterers and idolaters!" Amat raised a fist and struck the serpent on its nose. "Rise! Your work is not done! Rise and split the world in two!"
A rumble shook the body of the beast, casting ripples. Amat stumbled back and fell. The great eyes of the monster opened. "Who can look into the doors of your face!" she intoned. The enormous nostrils pulled in a breath, the gills sucking at the shallow surf. "Yes!" cried Amat. "Now!" The great jaws opened. Leviathan coughed, and a gout of flame and steam roared over the priestess, consuming her robes, hair and skin. Then the beast sighed and quieted again. Nothing of Amat remained but ashes on the waves.
"If there is some meaning in all this," said Emzara into the following silence, "I do not see it."
Nuah smiled his constant smile. "I am the last man on earth, with a princess, a boat - however small - and an enormous monster to provide meat for eating, shelter from its body, armor from its scales and weapons from its jaws. I have faith the gods will show us what to do with all this bounty."
Emzara looked at the brown man from his feet to the crown of his head. "I may discover faith," she said. "But not in the gods."