This Episode is PART ONE of SIX.
“You feel it, too?”
All was grey and blue. A skyless world bathed in an eerie cool light. Endless mountainous terrain cloaked in dust stretched across a hazed horizon. There was no sense of sky, or ends, in that place. Only a deep endless nothing above our heads.
I rode mounted on a thick red camel-like beast wielding a clubbed tail in its wake. The creature traversed this rubble alien environment with grace. Porbiyo—who summoned the beast of his sketchbook—rode beside me.
“See the light?” he said.
My eyes fought through the blanket of fog. In the distance, a light peered lonesome. I took Beep’s sheet from my pocket and rubbed her drawing to life. The cat-sized bee-sheep vibrated into existence and zoomed around my head. “Beep, go look for the light.”
“You think they’re a friendly?” Porb said, “Feels familiar. . .”
“Who else would be near?” I asked as Beep buzzed into the distance. “Threshold—though it feels different than her. Perhaps Hum Dum, Saxa Orias—.”
Porb perked, “Oh you met Saxa! What a behemoth. Great taste in foliage.”
“Polly, or Venefica? I haven’t seen Bigklau or Yizzimis in a lifetime. Avarice, maybe?”
“Hopefully the latter rather than the former. I hate their music, but I’ll take the walking graveyard, the crab, and the cow’s awful cooking over the doll and the vampire.”
“Your old foe Vispar may not be far.”
Porb brushed off the mention of her name, “Or Skedder Reskatahl, or Carnis Cadava, or Onyal dis’ Aurobact, or Emble Ropp Aun, or that weirdo who is friends with the paper airplane. Could be anyone. Please not any of those. Except Skedder. Not entirely awful.”
“Dis’ Aurobact. . . Draconic?” The word sang off my tongue.
“The Dawnthiever.” He shrugged, “Way too literal, might I add. Threshold is the Master of Keys—not very creative. What is my stupid name when you all talk about me? Beastmaster?”
“Yes, actually.” I sighed, “I am called the Rat or Ratman after all, so I empathize. A name which you created, might I add. I am a mouse, though, so not as literal.”
Porbiyo muttered a, “Those aren’t real,” under his breath.
Beep returned. A town lie below us. The ruins of an old building were all that remained besides broken streets smashed and demolished. The light emitted from a single standing lamp post. I patted Beep’s fluff and drew my crystalline shield. The garnet-shaped mechanic edges of the protector shimmied and snapped into a tall mount shield.
“Creepy dead building with an Agglomerate flavor?” Porb sighed, “I don’t want to fight. That signature is thick.”
“Me neither, but there is a lot of power coming off that building. We may not have a choice. Beep wouldn’t go near.”
“We can turn around. Or call out! See if they respond.”
I closed my eyes, and concentrated on Threshold. On our friendship. On our connection. A thread formed, a beating message sent out to her in the cosmos. I felt her presence.
“It is Threshold,” I said, kicking my mount for a slow descent and tucking away my shield. I didn’t hear him behind me. When I turned back, Porb stared at the lamppost and the hidden building behind it. He stayed motionless. “What’s wrong?”
“It has been awhile.”
“She’s frightening,” I said, “terrifying. But she’s also my friend. And sort of your friend.”
“See, that is the part that scares me. The sort of.” He began to follow down the lengthy slope.
“You’ll be fine.”
We came to the flat field below. Fog overhead glowed an eerie blue, as if the underside of an ocean had come alive. I still can’t quite describe the sky. Each time I peered upwards I got the feeling that it were peering down to me. I’d swear I saw eyes, and grins, and eerie hunter-looks about the emptiness. Porbiyo agreed. And when we came to the only working lamppost, which flickered in a desperate grasp for life, I felt that feeling only intensify. For once, I wished to remain in the dark, and keep free of the light.
A street lie beneath us. Rubble littered the sides. An entire town destroyed. Massive shards of angular material jutted from the flattened buildings. Gardens lie wasted in dust and debris. Remnants of railings from second or third story buildings stick from the ground like hands pleading for mercy. Mangled, massacred, mercilessly crushed.
“Storms don’t do this,” Porbiyo said, “neither would a titan. So strange. Quakes, perhaps?”
“Maybe. But look,” I pointed to a building thirty meters in width, whose floors had pancaked into a smooshed layering. Quite intact, as far as this world could be. “Whatever did this came directly from above. Like a million hammers struck at once. A shockwave could do it.”
None of this appeared made for humans. The scale seemed smaller. The materials and walkways off for what a human often develops out of preference.
“Opaline,” Porbiyo stopped beside me. He rose a single gloved finger to the endless night above us. The black holes in his mask became voids reflecting the nothingness above us.
“The sky has fallen.”
We dismounted our beasts.
I clenched my jaw. The single building that Beep found stood as a monolith upon the rubble. A small house, fit for small folk, a tad taller than I. The two story structure bore little resemblance to human architecture outside of its general shape. The smoothed, rounded walls and lack of windows gave a prison’s feel. The door was rounded, and open, and inside shined a faint golden glow barely noticeable from the dark’s swallowing of it.
A twenty meter shard jutted from the side of the building. A titanic shorn piece of what I can only describe as glass. Two meters thick, not even starships and cosmic vessels are built out of such materials.
The shard appeared to be a part of the home itself judging by the perfection with which is had sliced. But it was not intended to be there. It had fallen from the sky.
I tried to scan the horizon again, but nothing. Darkness. Fog. A sense of ends.
I stepped to the building’s entryway. My shadow cast over a cracked floor. Porb, behind me, absorbed my shadow into his. Together we crept into the void chamber.
“Where is she?” he said.
“You’re seeing as much as I am.” I looked for doorways or any sign of life. Through what I’d assume were main living quarters led a tiny hall, to another sect of the home resembling a prep station. A kitchen, I would guess. A door at the end of the kitchen was sprung open by a crack in the wall, leaving it hanging a centimeter or so off its level into the home.
In the backyard, a minuscule fence sectioned off a garden. Alone in the lifeless garden knelt Threshold. Her keyhole tattoos along her scalp radiated gold. The red shine of her eyes melted in with the gold, and cast a beautiful autumnal sheen over the ashen garden.
She turned, eyes far into the memory of that place.
“You’ve seen it, haven’t you?” I said with a cautious step forward.
She nodded and rose. Pink tears drizzled down her cheeks. She did not wipe them away. They formed streams down her chin, along her neck, and soaked into her collar. They burned away with puffs of golden smoke.
“Porbiyo of Eggnaut,” she said, “fine to see you. I understand you spend a great deal of time with my friend, here.”
“I do,” Porb lifted off his hat and bowed to her, “fine to see you. It has been awhile.” He shuffled in his pants. Was he nervous? I’d only seen him so stiff during the incident with the Genesar.
“I am thankful for your help in that last endeavor. Still those heathens burn in my skin for their atrocities.” She smiled, red lips reflecting a hellfire-like scene in her mind. She reached out a hand, which I took kindly, and said, “You called for me.”
“We felt your presence,” I squeezed her hand, “something felt different. I had to make sure.” We left our hands and she placed them behind her back, stepping back.
“Perhaps I gave in too far this time, fell too deep into my own vision.” Threshold said, “Our last meeting comprised, amongst other things, of conversation. Do you recall the most poignant pieces of the dialogue?”
“Is that not relative?”
“I have found one party often feels the same as the other when powerful conversation is afoot. Same as the hearts entwine with intimacy, or brethren on the battlefield, or athletes in the heat of their competition. What of our talk left the greatest impression on you?”
Was this some test? I’d inquired of her name, and she’d rejected the idea that she remembered it. I recalled the darkness which consumed her eyes, the stillness on her chin.
I could not bring it up again.
I chose the second closest option, “Truths. We spoke of memory, and perceptions, and justice. The way a moment is eternalized.”
“I told you that the memories I see are not so relative as my opinions on them, did I not? My justice is to my virtue. The events prior to that are entirely accurate to the space.”
“I remember. It was not long ago.”
Threshold’s face stiffened, words barely parted her lips, “This place has no. . .” she trailed, eyes glancing about, lips stumbling between syllables, and eventually whispered, “. . . this place lacks truth. The fall was not so simple as a moment in memory.”
I glanced to Porb, who said nothing. I said, “I’m not sure I understand.”
“I do not understand. I cannot fathom what I have seen. Surely you could not.”
I bit my lip, “Show me. The way you took me through the child’s bedroom’s memories when Venefica slaughtered her family. Show me what you’ve seen. With your scythe.”
“This is not for the faint of heart.”
“I am not faint of anything.”
“Anything that you know, Opaline of Dahn. For there are parts of you that even you are not yet aware, and there are things your mind cannot comprehend no matter how hard you try. There are no absolutes. No matter how desperately we cling to them. How can you face fear of the unknown, when most of you still remains unknown?”
“The parts I know are always scared. I choose fear rather than idleness. I have no reason to doubt the rest of me will feel otherwise.”
“And what if, by any chance, what I show you shall change those assertions? What if the forces at bay touch a piece deep inside your very Creation, and that piece cares not for courage?”
“Then I know you’ll be there.”
“Are you positive you wish to see?”
“Show me everything.”
Threshold descended into prayer, “Speak your tragedy to me, so that I may witness. Take me beyond the threshold, to where perspective may succumb to event. Dream for me. . . dream this threshold.” The cosmic nun floated into the air, chains spiraling around her body as a grand matrix. Her scythe crystalized and she took my hand. I became one with her well of gravity, and flew within her orb of keys.
Porb cowered into the house.
Threshold grasped my hand in hers, her other arm began to sheer reality with her scythe. Like the folds of the fabric of existence pulled back, Threshold and I became phantoms in the space. Porb disappeared. It was us and the past.
A great violet sky hung far above the village. Many villages. A rural plane. A collection of towns separated by fields of crop rising from blue soil. Red and orange plants. People pink of skin, with a single orb of a black eye. Simple buildings forged of clay and water and time, yet technology so far beyond their architecture.
Saucers danced in the sky. In sets of twos and threes. Brilliant glowing lights vibrating off flying plates.
Another race. Grey. Small. Legs unused for so many generations that they curled at the waist. Floating folk, with brains large as their bodies and two eyes black as the abyss. Like mammalian fetuses roasted in acid, brought to life by magian means.
They wore no clothes, bore no sexual organs, spoke no words, and moved only their fingers.
But they, in their saucers zipping across the sky, believed that they controlled this world. Belief. A strong sensation. Faith unwavering due to precedent or desire. They were a powerful peoples, from humble origins. The land spoke of their rise and expansion. This tiny world. . .
Not even a world. . .
A fold, a pebble, a drop of rain in the storm of a universe.
What was this place? Who were these beings? A race of colonizers, it seemed, as the land told their tale. But they came to this place. They would likely tell another tale of their ascension.
Such belief. Such absolutes with which they played and preached.
And so the cyclop-folk lived their lives beneath their rulers, on this minuscule world sixty kilometers end to end, farming in peace beneath their violet sky and clouds which covered their masters’ saucers.
Until that sky shattered.
Shards flew across the land, demolishing homes and businesses and barns full of strange exotic livestock. Pieces of the sky—mechanical chunks of wire, gears, paneling, and glass—rained down on the peoples. Bodies smashed or sliced in pieces or eviscerated by malevolent maelstroms.
Faces came into the clouds. A thousand eyes and a hundred horns. Drums beating with the rhythms of demolition and obliteration as screams sang down from the hellish heavens. Jaws opened from the glass and wires, unleashing square teeth bloodied to bite hills from the earth and grind homes in their gums. They breathed rockets and missiles and comets.
Legions of devils flanked fleeing peoples cutting them down like cattle at slaughter.
Forests grew of blood and flesh and anomalous amalgamations.
Great war machines formed of the ruin and trampled the ground beneath their almighty weight.
The world died again and again and again until there was nothing left. Until the world could not be killed again. And all was left behind as a corpse rather than harvested for their parts.
For the predators were scared away.
Something else lurked in the body of the world. A sickness. An illness. An infection.
A power with which even this desolation could not play.
I opened my eyes to find Threshold and Porbiyo before me, gently rocking my head awake. I took a deep breath. Chills ran up my limbs and my body trembled violently. I couldn’t stop the shaking no matter how hard I tried. My eyes glanced everywhere as tears streamed down my cheeks.
I curled up in the garden for an hour in silence. Threshold and Porbiyo remained by my side. No words were spoken. When I finally calmed my body from the ills of what I’d seen, I mustered a fearful whisper,
“I. . . I don’t understand.” I met Threshold’s gaze. “All of that felt so viciously real. Not out of order, or in order, either. Just a storm.”
“Chaos,” she said, “all of it happened at once. The faces in the sky, the devils, the machines, the sky falling. Everything was simultaneous and yet entirely its own event.”
I, slowly, hesitantly, glanced above my head.
There in the dark void of the sky remained faces. Slim outlines of grins and round eyes and idle tongues. As if pressed into the fog of the emptiness. I was not losing my mind. I had seen faces. We were being watched.
“I don’t understand,” I said again.
“This world witnessed its own demise a hundred different ways,” Threshold said, “there are other forces at play here beyond what we can comprehend. Perhaps greater powers beyond what Creation is capable of. And now we walk upon what was left behind.”
Porbiyo stood. He glanced around us, “Do you feel that?”
“This section, or snippet, or chunk of a universe is merely sixty kilometers in any which direction,” Threshold said, justifying the sensation.
I felt it too. “Godchildren,” my tongue slipped a curse from my very first world, some primal fear of faces far above me looming like men come to trample mice. “Godchildren. . . we’re all here.”
“Thirty six Agglomerates,” Porbiyo said.
“Thirty seven.” I said.
They eyed me, confused.
“Goyath. A flightless bird cloaked in razor feathers. He touched Peridot.”
“Sounds charming,” Porb said.
“A friend?” Threshold said.
“I am afraid not.” My mind wandered to Goyath. After what Rahn had told me of his genocide and the fall of his people, I’d kept thought of him close by. If I were to see him, I wasn’t sure I could bring myself to tell him of his peoples’ fate. In a way, his coming into the Curse was my fault. I could not imagine how lonely he felt. And I, terrified to speak with him again, kept my distance all this time. A pathetic choice. I am not proud of it.
“Bereavus is not here,” Threshold said, tattoos glowing.
“You can feel him?” I said.
“We’d all feel if he were here. He slips,” she said, “to and from Peridot’s Curse. A being of his power is not so bound by the laws of ours. You would feel him instantly.”
I nodded, still fascinated and terrified of this Bereavus. “All of the others. . . though?”
“Here.” Porbiyo clenched his fists. “All here.”
My ears twitched. Music. I pointed over the hill, “Hear that?”
A dozen instruments playing at once. An absolutely abhorrent sound. An ugly, if not grand, band, which grew to a symphony, and eventually what sounded like three symphonies entirely out of sync. I could feel the waves of noise creeping nearer until they couldn’t have been farther than a half kilometer through the unrelenting fog.
I smiled, ear to ear. “Bigklau.”
“And where there is the crab, there is the cow,” Porb rested his hands on his hips.
We headed towards the music. On our way, I summoned my top in my palm. The faint glow of the Syndel spun enough to promise awhile. There was a relief in that. I hoped to see my friends, and perhaps meet new ones, in this strange world.
But each time I looked up, my mind wandered to all the ways this world had witnessed its death. My body tensed as though a predator stalked me. Perhaps one did. For the body rarely lies.
We entered the fog. Walking slow, as mortals, to meet Bigklau and Yizzimis. Syndel bouncing light, I called for the only being which could give us some answers.
“Peridot. . . Peridot?”
Our Dragon appeared on my paw, violet scales alighting Porb and Threshold’s coats. At her summoning, both Threshold and Porb turned around at the feeling of their goddess’s presence.
Porb nodded in respect. Threshold did the same.
“What happened, here?” I asked as the clinking and clanging of our friend’s approach grew.
“What happens to all things, my children,” Peridot said to us three, “Annihilation.” She rose into the air between as, “Or. . . perhaps not.”
I had a feeling our time on this world, however average in length, would be far from mundane. Oh how I wish I'd been wrong.
To be continued. . .