This EPISODE is PART TWO of SIX.
Peridot left us, venturing into the crevices between the world with which us mortals could not be witness. The world’s Annihilation did not align, for Creation still reigned. Odd powers were at work. Great cosmic forces. I hoped she would return to us soon, even better if answers came along with her.
In the meantime, we would find all the Agglomerates that we could, and attempt to find some clue or understanding ourselves.
A behemoth’s shadow moved through the mist. A great clattering commotion became clear as an attempt at orchestra. Instruments of all possible shapes and sizes bungling together upon an enormous chariot-sized shell. The spiral-like shell was not unlike that of a giant hermit crab, though the figure who donned this instrument-clad armor was no hermit crab at all, but instead a crayfish some two meters tall at the shoulder.
His lengthy feelers skidded along the ground before him, making way through the fog. Two brass horns reminiscent of tubas hung from his crayfish head like ram’s horns.
“I do believe we’ve found them! Jolly, what a grand discovery,” Bigklau said, enormous muscled claws expressing his joy for him. His voice was mute and monotone, only growing louder when excited. His hands and eyes gave all the emotion he needed.
To someone unaccustomed to his manner of speech, it sounded like a mix of sarcasm, ire, and genuine friendly love. To myself, it sounded quite similar. The latter of the three was accurate, however.
“It is Opaline, Yiz. And Porbiyo of Eggnaut. And oh dear, it is Threshold. Hello my dear, how are you? It has been since the Corner of the Sphere, I believe!” The robotic sound to his voice was a result of a particularly crude device strapped to his gills. Magic could fix it, but he’d always had that voice, and never wished to change it.
Porb bowed, and I ran up to shake his claws. Bigklau had been the first of the Agglomerates I’d ever met. He embraced me gently with one claw, which was large and meaty enough to crush myself or even a human, “Oh dear boy, how good it is to see you. You smell of a wandering WorldWalker in truth. A half century too long in one place will put that scent of stagnation on you. Good to be on with it.”
“It is so good to see you my friend,” I said, slapping his claw affectionately. I felt a youth rush through my veins. A sensation of familiarity I so rarely had the chance to embrace. “Have you played that ocarina well? Tell me it arrived in time?”
Bigklau laughed. A hard HA, HA, HA. “My playing has not changed in quality, I am afraid. Not even for such a fine gift as that. The Kaihans knew what they were doing, I’ll say! Their strings were never much but my, my. . . quite a little piece of gremlin work.”
“I’d hoped you would like it. The couriers were fast! You spent another week on the coast?”
“Another month. Decided not to leave,” Bigklau set me down and raised his claws in a shrug, “regret that now, knowing we’d be sent again through the Garden.”
“Well thanks for telling me. Otherwise I couldn’t have given that gift.” Rosey memories crawled into my head. Laughter, and dancing, and drink. A palace alight with majesty and joy. The naming of my heir.
I was a king, once.
Oh how strange life can be. To move through so many places and times that even the most significant of our positions or stances can be left to remembrance. Something I had thought about so much, at that time.
“Yiz? You are lagging, chap. Make haste, will you?” Bigklau jingled the windchimes which hung from his mouth like a beard.
Yizzimis did not in fact make haste. I could not even see him from the fog.
“Ah, Porbiyo. Good to see you have not changed your coat.” Bigklau said, ignoring Yiz’s lack of agency.
Porb motioned to his collection of coats. Blue and green and red and more. Today he wore red. A striking color, I may add. “The last time I saw you, your tunes terrified my team of twanry birds.”
“Still with the bits of poetry.” Bigklau laughed, HA, HA, HA.
“Poetry with meaning. Your god-forsaken ‘music’ gave one of my twanries a mild stroke.”
“Those ‘birds’ were ruining the enchantment of the evening.” Bigklau said, “One of them bit Yiz right on his arse. Yiz! You have that scar to show? On your arse? And don’t even begin, feces dripped from the wreath over the stage. Manon stepped in it, don’t you recall?”
“I warned the guests not to sit on the benches by the berry bush. The concrete was stained and smelt juicy. Twanries love sweet things.” Porb shook his head, “And she. . .”
My heart stopped. I felt as if the universes all aligned, eyes of a million worlds staring down at me.
My youngest daughter.
Porb set a hand on my shoulder. He said, swiftly, to Bigklau, “All is forgiven.” The point was closed. Her name was not brought up again, though the echoes of all my princes and princesses littered my mind for a time.
I shot Porb a smile, to which his blank mask indicated some sense of empathy. He was one of the only ones to know my children, after all. Even if we weren’t quite friends, back then, we sort of were. Closer to cousins or colleagues. But the children loved him. He could bring their storybooks to life, sing them strange songs, and bring beasts of their wildest dreams to life.
Strange to ponder how our relationship began, knowing that at an amusement park many worlds ago we’d meet mere moments after blipping from That Time, and begin an entirely new journey together.
The seeds of our friendship were sown in those moments in Kaihanas, amongst the gremlins and the ratkin, ruling a kingdom I’d taken through might and mercy.
He was a maniac. Still was a maniac. But he genuinely put forth an effort to change. Was that regular, for people with our sort of life cycle? For people whom live forever, do they change many times, or change enough before reverting back to their old selves?
I thought of what I knew of my future. What little I had heard.
The ‘Discounted,’ some faction arisen by me or my name.
The statue who slew an angel.
Dahn dies from Annihilation, says the Genesar. Would I ever return?
How much would I change, or remain, or transform? What is the expectation of personhood when a person has no limits to their life?
I let out a huge breath, and remembered where I was and who I was with. Enough sulking in the past. There was no changing it. My children were without me and would never know the truth. That was my blame, and mine alone. I couldn’t change that.
But now I was between friends I could spend an eternity with, learning about, learning from, growing old with. I glanced to Bigklau, who was arguing with Porb about something—conversation null to me—and then my eyes caught a glimmer of Threshold’s.
She remained there, silent, watching. A witness of quiet. No social tendencies. No greeting or stories to share. No awkwardness, either. I felt no pity or sympathy. She was entirely confident and content to be in the company of others and yet stay entirely introverted.
Her lips parted. She did not speak, yet said, “Are you alright?”
She’d felt my pain at Manon’s name, certainly.
I nodded with an assured smile. But she could see through such things.
From the fog, a lank of hairy humanoid stepped into view. A minotaur. Half man, half bull. Hairy and horned, Yizzimis appeared drunk as he came forward in greeting. All his weight appeared on his staff. Nearly skin and bone, I did not envy the creature’s health. His affliction was the worst kind, though I’ll tell you that in time. He stood three meters tall, nearly as large as Bigklau’s shell. The two of them appeared enormous together, and to my understanding, never left one another behind.
Yizzimis bowed with his bone staff. His hooves cut into the dirt and left a cloud of blue dust behind him. His hands, however, were dextrous as a man’s. He wore no clothes at all, and seemed not to care for it.
Yiz said, “Hello.” His lack of elaboration often left awkward silence. He did as he pleased, and always appeared pleased as he did it. Despite his quiet, melancholic disposition, there was never one so happy as Yiz cooking.
I shook his hand, and he patted my head, saying, “Good feast. Have not feasted in long time. Miss it.”
And what a feast it was. I’d never seen so much food in one place that night in the palace.
Bigklau leaned in, “Though I wish it a time for celebration, I assume we all here understand no celebratory games are to be played. Some grand design is afoot. The skies are strange,” Bigklau said, “have you felt it, friends?”
I said, “Threshold has been witness to the events. She’s spoken with the land. I saw it as well.”
“Cataclysm,” Bigklau said, “for the songs upon the wind tell of despair and dread. A grand lacking. Of life. Of hope. Of future. I hear them played in the distance. Voices wrought with wrathful death.”
“Oblivion,” Yizzimis said. He pounded his staff—a trunk of bone—into the ground.
“Annihilation has ravaged this world, so we believe,” Threshold said.
“Peridot has slid into the secrets of this realm as we speak,” I added.
“Songs?” Porb said, “Living voices, you allude to?”
Bigklau nodded, wind chime beard chinking along. “Survivors litter the wastes. You have come from the edges of the realm—this crater edged in mountains like teeth. All is empty, beyond this fog. Track back to where we came? We heard songs played and not of an amiable sort. And felt familiarity.”
“All of us,” I said.
“Indeed, all of us. Peridot’s Cursed run amok amongst the mortals of a ravaged desolation.”
“People survived this, how?” I said. “The natives are cyclopean, you’ve seen them?”
Bigklau said, “Survived how? A question I pray our Draconic guide shall answer promptly. I do not enjoy the taste of this world, nor its earth beneath my feet, nor its eerie skyless stars. Yiz spotted a caravan upon the distant horizon. Lights moving across the plain. Fighters from above barreled out of the sky. Winged creatures. A battle ensued. A hunt, I suppose. We did not stay to watch.”
“Horrid,” Yiz added, and he seemed content in his addition.
“Have you seen anyone else?” I asked.
“Someone,” Bigklau said, “and something.”
Fog in our wake, our party of five crossed a kilometer. Bigklau moved with exceptional speed. Threshold floated. Porb rode his carpet. Yiz lagged behind, kicking at the soil. I enjoy Yiz’s company, as much as one could, but my little legs could not keep well with the others.
I climbed on Bigklau’s shell, and nestled myself between a few of his hundreds of instruments strapped along the structure. He appeared like a merchant’s pack animal, and I the minscule merchant.
We ventured on a lengthy dirt road, my body swaying with the wave like motion of Bigklau’s steps. In the distance, fog behind us, I saw many signs of life. For the fields were flattened. Lights of a city, maybe? Towers spread along the land? Roads and facilities all abandoned to this strange ever-night. Movement in the far reaches of my eyes, too. Somebody was out there.
“Though sad of circumstance,” Bigklau said, “I am glad to see you, dear Opaline. The distance of our friendship has been too greatly expanded. I am afraid these things happen, in our line of existing. Though I am perhaps to blame. I should have went feeling about for you.”
“As should I have.”
“I wish to ask, though I feel I’d be pressing.” We approached a small collection of buildings. Another small town, I would imagine. The buildings were not crushed, here.
“I do not say this to congratulate, or reward, myself. Know that.”
“You aren’t that sort of person.”
“I did warn against a family. Against love,” he said it quick, as if to spit free words on which he’d choke, “against such a life.”
“I thought perhaps. . . given the time. . . we’d have all time, left. I was younger, then. Only a few worlds beneath my soles. I returned to my nature. A person. A mouse. A mortal.”
“The comforts of a home are a poison to the ambitious and strong, but an elixir to those who have achieved and been challenged. It is all our natures to want a home, and a family, and love, and such things. The small folk of the Garden are what gives us meaning, yeah? But there are those beyond such luxuries as routine, and promises.
“Ambition promises only failure—for even those successful shall fail. And strength promises only a past of torture and tragedy—for even the strong must endure weakness to achieve it. Small folk fail less, rise above less. They simply are. While big folk fail more, and rise above more. Both fall into the same problems, addictions and agitation and all sort of comforts. We lie in some area not quite to small folk, or big folk, or any folk at all, and our pains are just as predictable. No comfort is a danger, lest it dull our edge. Then it is time to rid ourselves of the blanket and step into the grindstone. We’re always against the grindstone. Always whittling away until nothing but the core shows through.
“We’re sometimes royalty forced to travel without a kingdom. Or a musician forced to traverse lands of unknown sounds. Or a cook forced to make sensational new recipes, only to be swayed to a new world without those native foods to ever replicate it. Yiz’s tragedy, I suppose, is that he never makes a dish twice. Or, we are a little mouse who wanted only to see his world, and now he’s sent through every world that ever was. I worry about that little mouse, and what all these worlds have done to him without his loved ones there to hold. He fell into a blanket, after all, and then was thrown against the grain all soft and warm. ”
I smiled, heart warmed by the words of someone who had seen so much more than myself.
Bigklau said, “I wished to ask this, do you regret it? The love I advised you to ignore?”
“Good. If so, I would have to educate you on the privilege of romance, and love, and one’s blood rushing through another’s veins in legacy. Love promises only your own—for another’s is not yours to persuade or gain. Yet you and your wife were true miracles. And your children were—are—a testament to that. Never allow yourself to forget them. Never waste such privileged memories on the pain it takes to bury them.”
Tears went down my cheeks. Lightly, slowly, faintly. I patted his carapace. “I missed you.” I eyed Porb, who flew above, and he did not notice me in my sadness. He flew on ahead above the strange town.
Threshold looked to me. She raised a hand and squeezed it in the air before her. I felt a hand cradling my own. Her empathy imparted magically. I smiled to her, and squeezed that invisible hand back. I would never need to tell her of my life. And I would never be so ashamed as to feel betrayed by her feeling of my memories and emotions.
What shame was there in mourning, except the guilt for what you’d never said? I’d made peace with that. The people I loved now could know of it. My family was gone, now. There was nothing I could change.
The town we approached was comprised of a few simple buildings. Perhaps not even a town, but some sort of farm. An indoor-arena-like structure built of metal loomed in a circle of tall steel fencing. A barn, perhaps, for animals far too great in size to be equine or bovine.
Three other buildings of varying size littered the lot, though all in the same architectural style as the abode like structures of the fog town. Smaller than a human doors, rounded edges, simple buildings with advanced technological devices and additions.
In the odd light of the lightless sky, a few blue lanterns flickered.
“Powered electrically,” Bigklau said. “No generators. No magic as far as I can see. These lampposts and lanterns are all connected to a power grid.”
“A grid still in use,” Porb said, floating down from above. “I can see a power station. Three kilometers away. A workforce is there as we speak keeping the thing running.”
“All intact?” Threshold said.
“It was destroyed in part,” Porb said, “but you could get a better handle on that than myself. It seemed battered to me.”
“I will go and inspect it soon,” Threshold said.
I climbed off of Bigklau as Porb lowered himself to the ground. Yiz was far behind us, digging in some rocks, perhaps searching for ingredients of some kind or other curiosities.
The enormous crustacean lumbered to the steel dome I inferred was a barn, and I noticed its garage-like door had been opened, shadows spilling out. Not only opened, but blasted so. Like an explosion had gone off inside.
Porb teleported away.
A cry from inside the barn, “WHAT BEAUTIES.”
Bigklau laughed, “They miraculously survived all this time. Their feed descended from barrels the corner they devoured. The system seems automated. As they lowered on food, another barrel came by to replace it via mechanical arms.” I stepped behind Bigklau to see a barn large as an athletics fieldhouse keeping beasts bigger than houses. A dozen titanic, six legged blue pachyderms with four tusks and one eye each. Frilly ears hung from their big bulbous heads, and puffy rabbit tails scooted behind them. The creatures backed themselves into one corner, shaken and frail. Despite having food, they’d suffered.
Porbiyo went to them and raised his hands. Calmness washed over the crowd. He touched each one, and murmured to them. From the other side of the vast barn I could not hear, but his compassion radiated into the animals as he opened the field door and let them outside.
Perhaps it was a poor idea to let the animals loose in this apocalyptic world. But then I realized that between us all, nothing could likely hurt those creatures without being demolished. At least now they could graze on what little field grasses remained.
“The snake,” Threshold said. “She slithered through this hold.”
I eyed her. Bigklau nodded, “Vispar, yes. The serpent fed here.”
Porb teleported between us. “Say that name again.”
“Your foe,” Bigklau said, “fed upon these helpless creatures. That is how we realized they were inside. The screams. She burrowed beneath the hull and slew two, eating them whole.”
I admired the blasted out doorway, and followed the path of its shockwave to the shed across the street, which was also broken by whatever wave had broke down the door.
“If she burrowed inside, then who blasted the door from the inside? That is an enormous force.”
Porb growled, “She has slain many creatures, who knows the power at her despicable disposal.”
“Well, we came to look for you,” Bigklau said, “because we lost track of them.”
As Yizzimis finally arrived, in the distance, a single figure walked haplessly down the road. Apathetic to the cataclysmic weather or threats of any kind, the figure donned in blue and black clothes radiated a ghostly light.
A hoodie, so far as I understand it, was the garment on her upper half, with a torn denim below that. When the hood lifted, a skeletal face glowed blue with a ghostly flesh and skin. The skeleton disappeared beneath a phantom facade of a girl somewhat human, though more pointed in features.
“Snake got away,” she said, sighing, “tried to eat me. Bitch is deaf, now, at least for a bit. Played so hard the damn mountain dented in.” An electric guitar, painted blood red, hung off her shoulder. She stopped dead in her tracks. “No fucking way.”
The girl leapt into the air and flew towards Threshold, legs melting into a ghostly trail. She hugged the Master of Keys so hard that she phased through her. “Auntie.”
Threshold hugged her back, “Owyle, my dear. How are you?”
The two stepped back from one another.
“Happy as a half-dead,” Owyle smirked, “fought the stupid snake today. Bitch swallowed a couple of those big cuddly buns. You should really wrangle her in, Creature,” she made a face at Porb, “she’s your mistake after all.”
“You pursued her?” Porb asked, voice warping to wrath.
Owyle, realizing her words had hurt, shrugged. Her demeanor grew solemn. “I did. Bigklau heard the struggle. I phased through the wall and summoned my sisters. Played her through the door,” she touched her guitar, then pointed to the enormous blast hole, “mid digestion, and I followed after her for a few kilometers to the mountain. She’s too slick for my sisters and I. I can’t read her movements. Real slippery.”
Porbiyo rose into the air, carpet beneath him. His sketchbook summoned before him and he scanned the pages. “I will face her myself.”
“I’ll come,” I said. “She could be killing survivors, or worse.” I pulled up onto Porb’s carpet and sat next to him, a gesture he seemed to both abhor and appreciate.
“Perhaps it is wise to wrangle our kin, and monitor what we can of this world while we are at it,” Threshold said. “Owyle, will your sisters play again?”
Whispers surrounded us, female voices chattered in light, smoky voices, if only for a moment.
Owyle nodded, “Sure, they’re in.”
Yizzimis sat down, “Making dinner. Ready when you come back.”
“Nothing to make dinner with but ok. . .” Owyle kicked a rock and grabbed the edges of Porb’s carpet. She pulled herself up enough to see her eyes, “Can I hitch a ride, Creature? A bit tired.”
“You are dead,” Porb said.
“Dead girls are just as tired.” She climbed up and sat beside me, “Oh hey. Been awhile, buddy. How’s the whole ‘living forever in an eternal hell loop’ going for you?”
“Fine, I suppose.”
“This place is weird. Not liking it at all. Feel a hell of a lot safer with you all, though.” She screamed to Bigklau, “You coming?”
“Indeed, indeed.” He grumbled.
She nudged me, “Why’s he so grumpy?” The girl smelt of candles, and incense, and mixed with Porbiyo’s ridiculous perfume, my rodent nose went wild. Owyle wrapped an arm around Porb, and then around me, “Let’s fuck some shit up. Creature, can you summon those big gold birds? The ones that sing like a choir?” Owyle took her guitar off her back and began fiddling with its strings. One appeared to be broken. The girl’s eyes changed to that serious tone once again. “They harmonize great with my sis.”
Porb chuckled, “Twanries.”
“Yes! Those ones!”
“No! No, please not!” Bigklau groaned from below. “How do you know of these foul avians, Avarice?”
Owyle answered to her other name, saying, “They taught me many songs back in the Corner of the Sphere. Mr. Creature and I had a lot of fun torturing poachers up in the Krill-lands beyond the lakes. Why so angry about them? My sister will sing stronger with their harmony.”
“There was a party in Opaline’s palace. An incident with feces.”
Owyle set down her instrument, “A party?” She scoffed, “I want to come next time, yeah Ratman? Oh hey,” she leaned in, “hope you’re doing alright. Knew you had a family. I made friends, too. A lot of them. Sucks for us,” she shrugged, “we aren’t quite like them, yet.” She motioned to Threshold, and Bigklau. “Oop, anyway, got to speak with Auntie.” She rolled off the carpet and seamlessly flew beside Threshold. She tuned her guitar and made circles around the cosmic nun.
The two began to chat in a way I’d only seen Threshold speak with me. Amiably, naturally, happily.
Despite the journey to face Vispar, and our confusion on this forsaken world, we laughed most of the way. Porb’s twanries—big trunked birds, gold as the sun, pear shaped and stoutly—flew behind us as we traveled across the land. There was this unshakable camaraderie between us. And between them, with connections I could never know or fathom. All knowing one another to some degree, all having relationships deeper than I could yet understand.
I suppose all I was promised was time.
All the rest was luxury.
To be continued. . .