This cover was illustrated by the author and Taylor Yerdon.
“Where do I go?”
Where you’re headed.
“What do I seek?”
What you’ll find.
“How do I find you?”
I came to consciousness with heaving breaths. Vomit lurched from my throat across the cave floor—stonefire followed, melting into the walls and leaving the distinct scent of molten metal. My eyes reflected in the shimmering dew of the cave as blue-orange swirls.
My hands and feet cracked the cave floor—I’d held them so tight I broke the cavern walls.
A tidal wave of spoons churned in the dying light of my sorcery, reflecting the last bits of steady embers in each and every otherworldly utensil. Skedder formed a mime next to Peridot’s form. The two dragons sat as sphinxes guarding secrets, leg over leg like resting hounds.
“She spoke to me,” I said. “She spoke to me.”
Skedder chimed her spoons.
Peridot said, “You are sure it was Myth?”
I felt her presence. My hands trembled at the thought of Myth’s magnificent statue on the world of the pyramid peoples. A structure without true function to her form—merely a monolith to the enduring constitution of her soul scattered across the multiversal planes.
“Yes,” I said, feeling Myth’s voice pulsate in me, “I’m positive.”
I wandered to the mouth of the cave which acted as a porthole to the outside. The cave hurled itself across the Liminality as a comet. Universes passed across the vision one after another; pink skies radiant in their storms. Oceans green as grass bubbling full of acid. Geometric cyber cities folding into and out of one another’s fourth dimensional kaleidoscopic planes.
Peridot’s Hollow, I liked to call it. A place she so mysteriously could call upon when desired. She’d meditated there since she left me in our initial moments amongst the white sands, then felt my need of her and appeared.
That instance I refused to ignore.
For the first time during all my months in a place without compass or cue to navigate, I had ended up precisely where I meant to—in the arms of my dear friend.
The more I focused on her arrival, the less I could stand to ignore the significance of it. And when we had wished for a quiet place to escape the madness? We stumbled through a dystopian cityscape to find a geode chamber flying in the clouds, tail whisked as a meteorite.
Peridot called, “I know that hollow. . . that cave.”
Twice did we find our desires in a realm where desires were ever so evaded. I find the concept of coincidence to be, in this case, entirely foolish.
Somehow, some way, I would find Threshold, and Porbiyo, and all the rest. In the way my soul willed my friend to me, I would find the others.
Malabeenith called to me. If I could find her first, then perhaps I’d find the method in which to traverse this Liminality. If I could find Peridot by simply wanting her, then how had I not yet found Myth?
Other beings shifted through the Liminality as a songbird on silver wind—landing precisely where it meant to. As if it called to the branch mid-flight upon which it will, in mere moments, sing away.
I would gain the knowledge my friend Yallo never had, and travel this place between places as I desired—at my will. As the natives did. As I knew my future did.
“My soul is different than yours,” Peridot explained, “I have more will over a purposeless place than you may have. I can bend this melting of Existence and Nonexistence unconsciously. I find what I am looking for. Not always, but sometimes.”
“Your soul.” I clenched my fist and felt the Syndel vibrate through my being. Were Dragons born to Loche different than mortals, fundamentally? Or did Syndels alone distinguish them from us?
The Genesar of the Uhkanadumud referred to the ascension of mortals as impious; fear drove them to such belief. Varterius had tried to humble me with his voice and tore my Syndel from me, but though he destroyed me, I was born again by my own hands.
“What of my soul?” The Divine Spire floated off my fist and danced in the low-lit cave as worlds passed us by. Stonefire embers still fluttered in the air.
“Would you wield it?”
“It is a part of me. . .”
“Would you wield it?”
“No. But a raptor does not always need his talons. They are there nonetheless.”
“You feared my gift because you once thought of them as weapons. You saw what a Divine Spire could do in the hands of something never intended to possess one.” The Dragon rose from her guardian pose and moved nearer me, eyes twinkling as suns. “Now you compare the songs of Creations to talons?”
“I never meant it through such a lense.” The Syndel danced in light I could barely see. The silvers, blues, and whites vibrated with gold and pinks and so many other hues all drowned so brightly that they were practically blank. Boundless life churned in what was, compared to the endless universes moving through all time, a spec. “I merely meant that this is now a part of me, and even though I may not choose to use or show this part, it is there without my choice.”
“What did Malabeenith say? Are you sure it was her, and not some other entity feeling your call?”
“She told me to find myself,” I clenched my jaw. “It was her.”
It had to be her.
“And if it wasn’t?” Peridot said. “Malabeenith is a being such as I or Rahn. She maintains her own allegiances and enemies. Perhaps this is some entity who is aware of your encounters with Malabeenith. Something or someone luring you in with a sweet sound.”
“A grub on a hook,” I said, thinking of all those days as a young fishermouse spent out on the rocks catching crawfish.
“Perhaps it is yourself,” said Peridot. “Some twisted game to bring you directly to Opsalat and the Alfarin.”
The Draconic names sounded out through all time, twinkling in melody and riding the ever-cosmic wind. My eyes lit at the call Alfarin. “When I summoned the Alfarin after meeting the Genesar,” each Draconic word melted into one another’s song, the notes playing in the back of my throat upon all the rest of my sentence, “they appeared. Opsalat appeared. Porbiyo once warned me of speaking the Genesar’s true name. He shook with terror. . . telling me they could hear their true name no matter where or when it was called.”
“The Genesar of the Uhkanadumud have claimed that term for themselves,” Peridot chimed. “But that name—word, song—does not belong to them exclusively. Genesar is the music played beneath all gods who survive broken worlds. Higher beings and entities who survive the epochs between Annihilation’s work. I am Genesar.”
I thought of the mortal equivalent, and the White Island’s army of Goldmen creatures who battled Porb and I. “Just as I am, technically, of the Espari.”
“The Genesar hear the name because they have attuned to it through influence over dozens of universes born to Loche’s children. When a WorldWalker studies the realms, the first Genesar they will know of, or think of, or have knowledge of will be—.”
I leapt in a mild eureka, “They are the paradigm! The archetype.” The triumphs over the fields in Kaihanas surged in my mind, and the helm on my head which gave me such power; the helm Venefica had shattered when she murdered Beep. “The gremlins gave the Kaihan Helm power in mere belief and reverence—and fear. Instillment. The name Opsalat is one of one, not some blanket terminology.”
“Yes. All things gain power by being more of itself or themself. Manifestation is almighty. How else could I humble myself to the size of a butterfly, and lie unnoticed in universes forged by others? What the Garden believes of you matters just as much as what you believe.”
“The song Alfarin lights my soul. Ehlonniabatur does not alight you in the same way. Will Opsalat do the same?”
“I have no explanation for my name not adhering to the same rule as the Uhkanadumud’s members, nor do I understand why Malabeenith hadn’t simply summoned you to her if this was so important. Nor do I know why contacting her has been so difficult for you despite calling her true name repetitively in meditation. Some beings are more sensitive to the Draconic tongue than others, maybe. Nothing is so perfect as the systems mortals attempt to categorize our worlds in. We’ve spoken Opsalat’s name again and again—,” she eyed me, the realization setting in that I’ve grown comfortable speaking to that song, “and I feel no indication of his imminent arrival. I think you are safe to speak the name aloud. But perhaps the intent is what matters, Opaline. Perhaps calling upon the Alfarin worked because your soul willed it to work.”
“Or. . .” I eyed the Syndel, “. . . that sliver of godhood in me enacted a grander will.”
“That is possible.”
“Malabeenith said to find myself,” I said, “I don’t believe she meant to confront Opsalat. I ponder the implications of the Alfarin finding me, and Opsalat hearing his own name echo in the void. What I’m focused on now is grappling with making my way to where I need to go.”
I said Opsalat’s name without thinking again, and the lullaby from my homeworld brought waves of old nostalgia. The name became more desensitized the more I spoke it.
“We came together because we wished to,” I stated, Syndel still lighting Peridot’s Hollow, “I wish to find who I am beyond what I know. I know myself now, and can recall who I used to be—but what of the future? If I can find the footprints left in the wake of my legacy, then I can follow the passage through the mountainous terrain that is my name.” I imagined a temple hidden deep in the mist, red painted walls containing masters of art, and the martial ways, and will of the mind and spirit. I thought of me paving the way for myself through disciplined action and foresight. I saw my future sitting before an altar, welcoming my younger self home. “I will not worship at the altar of who I am—but I will find the temple and study how I built it.”
“You will call the Alfarin and Opsalat? With full intent, I do believe you will reach those forces.”
“I think if they could hear me without intent, they’d be here. Whatever happened at the White Island was different than the Genesar hearing their own name as Porbiyo feared. Opsalat said he’d been seeking me, remember? He wanted to be there, at that very moment. Then I called upon my brethren without full understanding of what I’d unleash. Two forces meeting through time and space. . .” I laughed, “not unlike us coming together.”
“What will you do, now?”
“I will study. Histories in every form. I will seek what fragments of the Alfarin regime that have made it to the Liminality and excavate every ounce of knowledge I can get my hands on. If I must, I will call my name through all time until I hear an answer.”
“Follow your future.”
“Yes,” I took the Syndel back into my soul and stared out of the Hollow door. “Find myself. Find Malabeenith. Find everyone I love until we’re all together again. Will you come with me?”
Skedder chimed in acceptance. I never did understand what she was trying to say beyond basic emotes. I know she was capable of communicating; she could sign runes, hieroglyphs, alphabets, and the like out of her spoons. I’m positive she could clang her spoons in enough variance to mimic voice—or even project a magical voice. Nonetheless, Skedder never indulged beyond the most foundational forms.
In a way, it made her as friendly and sweet as a person could seem.
Peridot did not answer.
“You freed me, my friend,” Peridot said, “now I shall help free you.” What she said to me all those months ago echoed in my mind—how she wished to show me what I truly was. Perhaps we’d find out together. She was as lost as I was, I could feel it. All of us are alone. . . but best to be alone hand in hand.
“Alright,” I nodded to myself, and felt the cosmic winds hurl past through the mouth of the comet cave. How could I possibly find anything in the vastness? How could I even begin to look?
When I felt it, I felt it, and I nearly wanted to vomit. I made the decision as quick as the thought occurred—“I have to do this alone.”
I stepped out of the Hollow, and hurled myself into the Liminality. I left my friends there, but not for long. We knew how to find one another. I felt no fear in taking my leap. We found each other once, and now we both knew the way.
I will see you soon, Peridot sent into my mind. She told me she loved me, that Skedder said farewell, and to be careful.
Off I went. Without course or compass—merely myself to follow.