This cover was illustrated by the author and Taylor Yerdon.
I’d expected my leap into the Liminality and acceptance of this fate to reward me. The expectation for reward is always a guaranteed disappointment. In my first moments, a titanic silver sky-sailer sliced through the void in my direction. I readied all that I’d been to that moment—a voyager, an adventurer, a fighter and warrior—in an attempt as preparing for whatever the encounter may entail.
I had no idea what to prepare for. That ignorance and the promise of learning invigorated me.
Who piloted such a vessel? What captain could control a ship of such magnitude and grace? Who comprised the crew? I’d faced many foes. I’d made many friends. Which side would these strangers fall under?
The moment I stepped forward, the gorgeous silver ship turned course. The vessel got sucked into a horizontal feed of magic, not unlike a black hole pulling matter into its core, and disappeared. Had the ship voluntarily moved, or been attacked?
My promise for adventure? Gone in a flash.
Every expectation I’d maintained for the Liminality in my brief time there faded. The ship I took as a lesson to be learned swift and soundly—that nothing in this endlessness worked the way things did elsewhere. Simply because an outcome appears likely based on projection does not mean those projections will hold.
Adrenaline pumped through my veins. The depressive down-spiral of lost expectation sapped the life from me. I could tell myself that I was above such emotions but I’d be lying. I desired contact. I needed connection, adventure, and exploration. I wished for peaked curiosity and instead had the carpet pulled from underneath me.
Laughter filled the void of excitement.
Giggles. The brilliant sound of childhood gaiety.
Behind me, my headstone of clothing scuttled into the air. My gambeson, undershirt, pants, the beloved mimic to my daughter’s knitted scarf, the saber I’d battled countless times with, all twirled into the sunset. The items jostled as if tugged back and forth by invisible strings.
Three orbs appeared from black shapes like matter unleashed from a vacuum. Black like the sky above the world where we battled Venefica. Black like the power Creation feared. In that nihility of the dark came light.
Gold spheres cloaked in a dozen wings each. As the orbs moved back and forth, tugging my items away from one another like toddlers facing over blocks, the wings would triple to thirty or more only to retract into five or six when not necessary.
A kaleidoscopic mirage? Or some visceral biological function? A surreal painting come alive regardless of the explanation, as if my eyes could not comprehend it.
The giggling orbs halted their giggling. Their gold bodies became eyes. Flashing through all sorts of different methodologies for sensing light. Serpentine. Feline. Human. Crystal. Technological. Photo lenses. I recognized those. Also other shapes, other biological or technical or mechanical or magical eyes. Ways that beings saw. The context was clear—infinitely so—that they “looked” at me in every way they knew how.
Their vision became reflection: mouse eyes. Dozens of eyes opened, blanketing each of the orbs’ bodies.
One of the gigglers approached and in its approach bewildered me: they did not have any size. No shape or volume, you see. Merely the illusion of size. When the eye-angel came near, I could not discern whether or not it actually came closer. The giggler did not grow in scale as they neared. Something in my soul knew it closed in on me. From a distance they appeared several meters wide a piece—quite sizable. But when the giggler came near, for a close inspection, the little thing remained the same size as my eyes registered at a distance—mere centimeters.
Perspective betrayed me. My vision betrayed me. My mortal form—confined to processing mortal worlds forged by gods with rules and ideas and concepts—betrayed me.
The angels chuckled one last time and faded into invisibility, taking my things with their eerily familiar laughter. As they fled, they stared.
I did not peek into my Boundless Bag for equipment, clothes, or weapons. When the angels left me, I knew there was nothing to do but stride forth without aid from the past. Something felt wrong about grasping at old belongings to take me into this new voyage. I admit I even considered abandoning my Boundless Bag—but I couldn’t.
Still, I maintained mortality. Still, I was a person. Every object within my bag held significance. There were pieces of me inside that bag scattered through memories that time, given the chance, may stretch too thin for my own recollection. To hold onto myself and my friends who I’d lost, I had to keep those objects. I couldn’t let go.
Perhaps a hypocritical stance. But a realistic one.
From the distant sand I spied a black castle—not a fortification made of stone towers, walls, and well kept crenellations, but a fantasy fort so whimsical that a dark lord surely salivated over the pinnacles and pediments.
The castle rose from the sand like a whale from water. The foundations—a heap of black stone sliced straight off a cliff’s edge—moved on a half dozen craggy obsidian legs. The castle moved far and away from me, and the tallest towers became circled by vulture-beings which couldn’t have been less than ten meters in wingspan.
A tornado appeared in the distance, and in the wake left a cliffside of wind crystallizing into grey slate faces. The majesty of this surrealist’s reality baffled me, as some being from above, on the farthest ceiling of the opposing gravity, “fell” and surfed the tornado for kilometers. I watched the spectacle like I were in a stadium for sport.
The spew of firing weapons raged somewhere above me. I peered upwards. Far, far, far in the sky where the second land resided, a hundred dunes surrounded a white water river.
Diving towards my “down” and perhaps their “up,” a collection of aeroplane pilots engaged in a dogfight. Several more advanced fighters, which I assumed to be starcrafts or starfighters, blazed past and corralled their enemy. The fight zipped off towards a celestial face large as a sun.
My feet shook in the sand. My body cowered. I turned towards the sound. A mountain I’d spied in the distance disappeared. All that remained I’d call a black shroud. As if a dark blanket covered where the mountain once stayed. A glowing, vibrant black.
When I turned again, a herd of beings I could only describe as mammalian mantids sauntered nearby. No riders or packs or cargo. A herd of wild beasts untapped by sentient use. Several cocked their slim, grey-skinned heads at me. Where antennae would rise from the skull instead black, slim horns did. Once acknowledging me as a predator, the sauntering turned to sprint. The adults slowed as to protect their children.
Was this how Loche saw their Garden? The entirety of all things entwined in this rush of action? No indolence, merely inspiration?
“What do I do?” I said to the void, the endlessness, and in speaking to all at once I truly only spoke to myself. “What do I do, now?”
A moment passed with my feet steady in the sand before I knew my answer. “Go. You go.”
I wanted answers. Opsalat? The Alfarin? Was Peridot’s Curse truly gone? Where were my friends? How to tap further into the Alfarin song which empowered me? Why I’d come to find my old self?
The questions never ended, and the answers would produce a longer list, I wagered. Only by being curious could I ever find solace.
Wandering cleared the mind. Questing fed the soul. Perhaps my quest, then, would be to wander. I’d been forced to wander for a lifetime without agency in my destination. Now, I could seek. Now, I could explore.
In exploration of the world comes exploration of the self. In seeking curiosity of all around me, perhaps I could find peace inside. Play a note, and another note plays in pursuit. Step forward and the other foot is bound to follow.
I wandered alone for a time. I’d expected to be ambushed or attacked or assaulted, but I did not encounter anything of the sort in those moments. I say moments because the lack of days and nights caused quite a chaos in my system. I barely slept when blipping between worlds. Now I slept when I desired it. I’d slept three times before engaging or encountering another being. Three days.
I saw treaded tank trains traversing the distant dunes, watched blimps barrel in the inverted gravity above me, spied skyscrapers be tossed as javelins between titans forged of mountainous stone and ice, and spotted tribes of minuscule mapmakers attempting to chart their way towards some unknown destination.
I witnessed, but never engaged. The chaos of the Liminality invited infinite possibility on every front. I truly did expect to encounter beings who desired or pursued me in some way. From hunters to wranglers to soul stealing fiends. Here, where everything seemed to be ever entwined in this ecosystem of Existence and other mighty powers and forces, all things seemed to remain into themselves unless prompted.
Perhaps apathy is the virtue of abundance, or perhaps its vice. Time passed in the strangest of ways when one couldn’t be made aware of her definitions.
The distance between interactions challenged my mind and memory. Did only the conversations and actions matter in my life? Of what consequence did I consider my time spent alone in observation?
I came to a mountain pass flanked by rivers. Tundra rose from a chilled wind deep in the recess of a canyon. At the edge of this frigid land, ten kilometers or more away from me down a slow yet steady decline, a titan statue sat cross legged, back towards me. Somewhat humanoid? So large that whatever crescent shaped structure stood in front of the titan appeared nearly half a stadium in size.
The fur stood up across my body. The breath fled my lungs.
A quiet peace. The surprising sigh after a long day. The first inhalation of forest air after months trapped indoors. The split second before victory where you finally accept you’ve dominated. The silent glance moments before you confess your love.
An operatic quiet.
My feet walked without my telling them to. An hour later, through thickets of tundra brush and frigid air, I stood beneath the back of the cross legged titan; spiraling white stone, as if puzzle pieces nuzzled together. Between the stones crawled violet mosses sprouting in green buds. The statue’s four arms outstretched towards the humungous metal structure—a crescent shape around the front of the legs.
I jogged through the snow to try and see the face. Minutes of running later, at the far, far end of the crescent stadium-like monolith, I looked upon the blank face of the titan. The humanoid shape of the head spiraled in the stone interlocking blocks, creating curved geometric patterns without rhyme or reason. The dozens’ meters long arms of the statue all touched the half-stadium shape, landing in different places. Because of this strange pose, the statue lie asymmetrical.
Bitter cold seeped into my bones. Wind swelled and pushed me into the snow. When I stood and dusted free, my eyes saw what held the giant statue’s attention.
A glacier between the statues.
The wall rose a hundred meters into the sky, a sheer face of crystalline ice broken off by time and time alone. A dam wall for a now frozen sea, black coils waved in and out of the frozen ocean. Wicked dancers of all shapes and sizes. Ribbons and hunks of black.
I turned to the structure at the statue’s feet, and breathed stonefire to warm my body. The blue and orange light of my eyes reflected off the snow and the metallic face of the building. I Channeled Force through my limbs, taking my own weight and pulling it into the surface of the metal. I climbed upwards as if crawling on flat ground.
Twenty meters up, and my fur became pinned from the wind’s speed. I stood at the edge to one of the great arms of the statue. Three fingers to each hand; each pressed into rectangular metallic shapes.
I’d seen this before. Something like this.
From here I still struggled to make out what the black ribbons in the glacier were. Perhaps going even higher and I could confirm my suspicions of this metal statue’s depiction and the black shapes in the ice. I continued Channeling Force and scaled the nearest stone arm of the titanic statue. The warm stone sent my mind spiraling. Why warm? How could it be warm?
I glanced behind me, around halfway up the arm, and realized why the metal of the half-moon monolith seemed to strange. Not an ounce of ice covered the enormous instrument.
A crescent keyboard—a piano.
The stone and metal structures seemed unfazed by the environment to which they’d been subjected. I climbed all the way to the uppermost shoulder of the highest left arm, and then along the neck and to the head. The spiraled stones set for the head curved in the most elegant pattern. Up close, the violet moss appeared even more alive than I realized. My entire ascension I’d been pursued by the moss tails as if magnetic. They reached for me as I passed, perhaps attracted to the electric current of my heart, or the feel of my soul?
“What is this?” I whispered to myself, hoping Ehlonniabatur would appear with answers. She did not.
I moved across the stone head to find that there’d been a hole bored through where the ears would be. A cove roughly a meter and half tall. I walked into the mouth of the chamber undaunted by the darkness, and as my feet touched the carpet of purple moss, the green bulbs illuminated the inside of the cave. A perfect egg shaped cavity blanketed in the purple moss. Green tails shined just enough to cancel the light of my stonefire eyes.
A pedestal stood dead center. The white stone pillar cradled a small metal orb in the middle.
When my paw touched the sphere, BOOM.
I staggered back. In such a silent place, I never expected to hear a booming bass from touching a piece of metal.
I reached again, and heard the sound. This time a low, quiet sound. The more I touched, the more noise was made. I tapped and heard clashes. I set my paw slow and heard similar sounds. But when I ran my paws over the orb, the noises melded into something more.
The slower I ran my finger, the more mellow the noise. The faster, and over time I realized the sound became melody. Beautiful ballads entirely without lyric.
My vision became blurred. I realized quickly it was not my vision but instead the light in the statue’s chamber. The room’s pale green light shifted into a vision. The head itself took on the appearance of the environment around us, as if the green bulbs on the moss were cameras and projectors watching the outside and projecting their findings on the inside.
I saw the mountains, the titan keyboard and the fingers on the keys, the glaciers, and tundra from which I came. A perfectly prepared panorama.
Paw on the orb, I pushed carefully, picking up the pace of the rotations. The noise became melody, and that melody true song. And my eyes feasted. For as I moved the orb and heard the music, I too saw the majesty of what this statue mimicked.
As if in the cinema, I watched the glacier form from an ocean. The water froze in the canyons to carve away the rock. The glacier melted and swelled into waves again only to be smothered in molten material when the neighboring volcano erupted. The ash in the sky cloaked the sun and so came a time of ice and cold, and thus the ocean freezes again. The volcano unleashes the fury in wake of the cold, and lava melted through the glacier, carving tunnels of refrozen water, molten material turning into obsidian clasts in all shapes beneath the glacier surface.
In my ears played the rhythm of glacier carving into rock. The faster I moved the orb, the swifter the scene before me played.
My ears embraced the bass of the volcanic eruption, and every sprinkle of pyroclasts against the tundra chiming like icicles on steel. The searing steam of heat absorbed by ice whispered in the back of the music, playing for me in timeless harmony.
Below, on the keyboard, the statue’s fingers played each key with the world around in pace with the imperceptible movements of the geological timescale. The statue remained almost unnoticeable in noting each musical tone. Not only the violence of volcanism and the eruptions, but the slowest movements. Fingers remaining on a single key for what must be centuries as the ice carves the rock and the mountains merge into single peaks.
In reflection of the projection I caught my black eyes growing damp—I found myself in tears.
The silence of the universe cannot ever be quiet—how can life be quiet? For the world lives in song. As time churns onward, so does the music of all things. The shortest notes of an insect’s lullaby or the longest tones of an ocean drying.
Was this how the gods lived—listening to the endless symphony of their creation?
I’d never heard words describe my existence, my life, my being. Words could never capture it.
There I finally empathized with my own life since I touched Peridot on Dahn all that time ago. Every choice and decision played briefly, yet resounded over all my being for all time. Every world I’d seen existed for only a moment to me but my actions there echoed in silent structures forevermore. I’d live for centuries, millennia, and someone somewhere watched my life pass just as I could turn this orb and see the glacier transform in its natural cycle.
Malabeenith, maybe? Perhaps even myself, eons away?
If I could find a way to see myself in the vision of this grand opera of time, then perhaps I could see Opsalat. I could see the Alfarin. I could understand—and take a chance at altering—my very destiny.
All I needed was a different perspective, a way to see the stretches of time.
No time to waste on waiting. I climbed down the musician, and gave a kind farewell to the being I knew resided in that skin. For it may operate on a timeless scale I could never imagine, but I had a feeling that everything I saw was not the work of some statue building sculptor’s monolith, but instead a living being: a grand titan who moved too slow to speak, but whose songs echoed expansively.
The musician, in some manner only my soul understood, appeared to say farewell as I left.
On the horizon, thunder blared and storms raged. I wondered how quiet those storms would be when slowed. I wondered how long one would have to stretch thunder for it to be silent.
How would I see those moments, someday? I pondered if my time on Dahn, or That Time, or the WorldWalking would be thunderous clasps in moments, or if one day all the memories of myself, my friends, and my family would be meaningless—quiet.
The answer lie in the truth: that one day I would become antithetical to everything I found meaning in. That truth began long ago, with a gift from a dear friend.
I inhaled to pulsate the Syndel in my soul.
I’d been given the gifts of gods—a lense through which to envision my life differently. Perhaps it was time to take a peek. The temptation’s severity dragged at every ounce of willpower I still maintained. I did not summon the Syndel, that paintbrush by which gods wielded their creator’s will. I fought the urge to use that weapon and corrupt myself. I’d used it before, and I would not allow myself reliance on something which would turn me into the very thing I so despised.
I’d used the Divine Spire to imprison my grave enemy. When the Eldest Oldes destroyed my body, they’d obliterated that prison around my neck. Perhaps that meant they destroyed the soul trapped inside. When my clothing returned, the necklace did not. Opsalat never reformed the prison.
Opsalat—a personification innumerable millennia my elder—perfumed my daughter’s scarf to bring me affection, but did not return the Vicar to me in vengeance. The Vicar—a burden I believed I’d be forced to carry all my eternal life—so far as I understood, was gone. Perhaps gone forever. Opsalat reforged my daughter’s scent and cast it over her scarf. How long since the God-Mouse had smelled her, and still he gave that gift?
I’d been both comforted and spared by a future hand.
My remembrance brought no relief outside a moment's levity. I remember who I am, and still become that vision I saw on the White Island? What could I do but fear that truth? I'd rather know I lost myself entirely than come to terms with knowing I dismissed all that I was to become something twisted by grandiosity.
I suppose there was a beauty to being comforted by the future, I regret to admit.
Such things as love do vibrate through all time.