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EP 57: TELL ME MIRROR


This cover was illustrated by Taylor Yerdon.


I sped through the cosmos as a comet—a particulate of the trail behind Peridot’s Hollow—and let myself grow lost in any sense of where or when I headed. As the white sands of the Liminal dunes approached, I slowed my descent and lowered myself until my paws touched down with careful, easy stride.

Once, a fall from a tree guaranteed death.

I took a resonant breath. A thousand worlds pulsed through my lungs. A peaceful rage. The slow, burning ire brought about by time and patience beaten thin. Not the anger let loose with screams or fists, but by acceptance.

Who was I? I never really knew.

The answer perhaps never mattered. All I cared to be was what I was—who I was. I’d learn what I’d become. I’d study my future. What I learned wouldn’t change my actions. What I found would never alter the person I was.

Someday I would betray myself. Someday, I’d dismiss all I believed myself to be.

Eventually I wouldn’t have the constitution to bear this weight—this pressure—and I’d shatter. Opaline would be destroyed by Opsalat. The song would eclipse the name.

I planned to study my past and my future. I’d trace the cracks until I knew where I shattered, so that maybe I could empathize with the betrayal of self I’d inflict.

Then, perhaps, I could find Myth. Maybe she could return some semblance of sanity to my restless soul.

Paws standing in minuscule white marbles, I felt as a sailor ashore—glaring down the long horizon towards the following sea.

My rage only scorched from sorrow. My fire smoked on the coals of tears. My hate nurtured from love. I questioned my path. I doubted every step I took, but forward is the way.

Do not think me some hero driven to madness with my own righteous cause. I have no courage to spare nor share. I was terrified—numbed to nearly nothing. Weakness and fear penetrated my soul as I embarked on my futile quest to change the future.

I wanted answers. I wanted to know. I needed a reason.

Why me? Why me?

When I was through with the pity, I leapt into the air and propelled myself with sorcery. I journeyed from mountains to valleys, through tunnels to cityscapes, across star systems in naval battles.

My jumps through the ever-changing gravity became longer. My landings grew softer. I leapt from islands to asteroids, from beaches to bridges, from small towns to spinning starships. The liminal insanity fueled my newfound drive.

I left the pity behind and embraced my pain. Soon my leaps were so long that one could call them flights. Each fear I shed left doubt behind. Each doubt in my wake and my soul grew lighter.

I taught myself to fly.


~~~


My trek took me through every corner my eyes caught.

A castle spinning upside down on a chunk of land? I investigated. I read the murals and paintings, I browsed their library, I dug through their parchment records. Nothing but jargon of their planet’s regional religion.

A suburb lifted from the crust of the world and plopped on a tropical island paradise in a purple sea? I scoured the island for any sign of me. I rummaged the streets and homes. All empty of both life and what I sought.

Cave systems lined floor to ceiling in hieroglyphs, or mosaics, or ornate carvings recessed into the stone. I scoured a hundred of them—implanted arbitrarily in mountains or in the depths of a lake or even by opening the door to a skyscraper and arriving in an old cavern.

The vivacious lunacy of the Liminality gave no direction except to press on. Nothing in me sought guide because there was no guide. How could I seek signs of myself except to go out and find them?

Along the way I found myself in more than a fair share of scuffles. Natives began to hunt and attack me more often. Once, at the peak of a great green-marble mountain, one of the vibrant clawed behemoths ambushed me by appearing from the mist below. The village below—comprised of an eclectic mix of peoples trapped in the Liminality—had lost six members to this particular native.

I hoped I beat him hard enough to scare him away, but I’ll never know.

That is the great curse, I suppose, of wandering. Not only wandering, but doing something along the way. I met countless good souls in my travels. Those who were shocked I could speak their language always gave me the greatest smile. Those I could help in some way were what mattered most, even if I enjoyed good conversation or to learn a thing or two simultaneously. To be able to carry water jugs for some six-legged people up a mountain trail, or help pull in a boat to dock, or repair a bridge in a raining smog city: all of my experience held weight.

Then I say goodbye, and I never see those people again.

In the direct search for self, I got to know so many others. With Yallo’s watch on my neck I tracked the weeks becoming months.

Time passed with vigor, and then with a grinding halt. The space between my battles with natives grew longer. My bouts between dark lords not yet humbled by their meaningless existence in the Liminality grew stale. Conversations with strangers in diners, or taverns, or cafes turned so numerous that I could barely recall the last one. The Liminality—not unlike a too-lengthy shopping trip under fluorescent lights—desensitized one to experience.

The constant swell of “new thing” followed by empty traveling to the next “new thing” began as exciting. My adrenaline pumped. My drive sustained the soul to push on.

I had a quest to fulfill and my own exhaustion would not stand in my way, nor would the severe lack of answers.

In all that time, I found nothing of the Alfarin. I traveled for nearly an entire year. Alone and blinded by rage, the fires began to fall off. One can only be motivated for so long. Soon introspection will betray you. Soon, the dark thoughts come crawling in. Any possibility of triumph becomes drowned in the reality: I found nothing.

Fearless effort is all I employed. In all that time out there, alone, abandoning Peridot and Skedder, I fought for knowledge. I did not trudge out in the void with anonymity in mind. I did not trek trepidatious in my pursuit.

When I arrived in a new place—no matter the variety—relentless investigation was my purpose. I scanned every diner picture wall, each ancient temple grounds, and far cliff faces for signs of mice, or stonefire, or feeling. I listened as I strolled for the song of the Alfarin or Opsalat. In galleries I asked for art of beings which resembled me.

I never expected the Liminality to have such breadth of life, but it seems to function in a way not unlike a normal universe. Only the folk there have accepted the insanity of life. There are islands in the void not unlike the region where I got my starspear forged so long ago. Some islands held schools now used as housing or converted to small villages, or entire communities, or something as precious as a skyscraper turned into an orphanage for lost children—a tale for another time.

Communities thrived amidst the chaos.

I stepped into every situation seeking signs. I asked for any knowledge of those like me. I was on occasion given responses. People knew of rats. They’d seen beings resembling me. I heard the term, “minnoro,” so often from voyagers of all sorts.

Yallo called me minnoro.

“What is a minnoro?” I asked a troupe of troubadours beside a barbecue smoker outside their train cart. I traveled on the roof of their train for a few days, riding the wild paths it carved through liminal volcanoes. The train forged its own tracks. The troubadours stopped to perform in all sorts of places, and when they noticed me I didn’t get a scolding—only an invitation to dinner.

“Minnoro, you know,” said a cyclops wearing denim overalls devouring what I was informed was mammoth brisket. He chewed and chewed and finally said, “Minnoro, you know, something like you. A little alfa.”

Alfa.

Alfarin?

My first snippet hinting at my goal and it came from the mouth of a giant one-eyed pink traveling cello player. I had even more words to describe the fellow, but that’d be a tale in and of itself.

“As in a little Alfarin?” I said, ripping a bite of my own admittedly smaller slice of mammoth. I maintained my composure despite the excitement and the nerves. Minnoro I’d assumed came from Yallo’s homeworld—jargon or likewise.

Perhaps not.

The light of the smoker fires lit the troubadour cyclops along with the violet auroras in the cool dark sky above us. He blinked slow then said, “Alfa, yeah. You got to be minnoro, minnoro.”

“I’m unfamiliar,” I said.

“Well alfa are witchy rats. Carry blades out of their wrists and breath. No-named clones. Minnoro are like alfa but not alfa, you know?”

I tried to bring my mind into his wavelength, and attempted a theory, “Minnoro are rats who aren’t alfa, maybe? The way people who aren’t part of a military are blanketed as civilians although they’re entirely different culturally, perhaps racially, and otherwise from one another? The square is a rectangle but the rectangle isn’t the square scenario?”

“Sure, yeah,” he said. “Triangles are squares too if you add another side.”

“You know of the Alfarin?” I said, realizing he and others around me shot glares at the use of the Draconic, symphonic tongue. I also ignored his last addition to the conversation.

“Generally,” he said, “heard of ‘em in my time, sure. Say, where are you from, minnoro? You related to the alfa or what?”

I realized my eyes lit in the faintest glisten at the song Alfarin, and that the stares from everyone around came more from my soul coming alive at the use of the divine tongue than perhaps the display of language itself. I left the troubadours directly after this.

Later, in the depths of a swamp, I asked fishermen who I helped reign in the day’s haul of amphibious mud-skippers what they knew of my kind. The question came after one of the fishermen whispered, “Is he what I think he is?” to the other in a second language. Neither seemed to understand how I spoke their base language, and definitely did not comprehend my knowing both.

When prodded, the one human, tattooed in runes and hairless except for a mustache, said, “We have seen the carvings. We are told not to go down there—could drown, you see. All little boys go against what they’re told. It is not a strange thing to do, here. Please do not. . .” he closed his eyes and prayed, “please have mercy on us.”

“I’ve only come to find signs,” I said. They guided me through the thickets of roots and reptiles lurking in the sticky swamp.

A temple rose from the water but not the jungle, as the tree roots clawed the stone into the depths. Moss, algae, and beds of clover strangled the structure in their best attempt to drown it. At the peak of the stepped pyramid—which formed hexagonally out of intense precision in geometry and engineering—stood a pediment circle reminiscent of a gazebo forged of the finest silver stone.

I stepped off the guides’ canoe and floated above the water towards the temple’s most exposed step. I merely countered my own weight with sorcery to take the action. When I checked behind me, the canoe vanished into the jungle along with the fishermen.

To consider a turn back would betray all I fought for, so I considered only my curiosity and the promise of some satiation.

What did those fishermen fear of me? The temple held some answer, indeed.

I crawled down a dark shaft beneath the gazebo-like structure atop the pyramid. Distant storm clouds crackled until they were drowned in the all consuming dark of the hole. Thick musk held the stench of rot and standing water. Down fell a drop off my fur and the clink of a drop into a pool told me water lie below.

I Channeled Essence, absorbing the feel of the swamp, the dank air, and the misty smog, and siphoned the water up the hole and out of the temple. The water hugged the walls as it climbed and left me untouched in my descending the cylinder.

In the deepest corner of the temple lie a single chamber. What used to be flooded lie empty. A tomb. Four sets of three burial nooks were carved into the walls. The bodies were long since dissolved and decayed, leaving aquatic botanics to invade every recess instead.

Where life ends, life begins.

My eyes lit blue and orange with a stonefire breath. Behind the layers of lilies and crawling underwater vines, my eyes traced hieroglyphs. Slowly they showed themselves—the faintest of familiar forms.

Mice.

Hundreds of them.

Depictions of mice gifting objects or power. Depictions of armies of mice amidst the humans. Depictions of mice in the clouds floating amongst a plethora of shapes and colors. Erosion took her heavy toll, but I knew better than to question my eyes.

Alfarin. Whatever their story, these were Alfarin.


~~~


The burial chamber left me at a dead end. No leads onto how to find these mouse gods depicted in the images or any path down which to travel. The swamp and temple were brought to the liminality from some other world, no doubt. What connection did that world have to the Alfarin and the legacy left in the wake of my future self?

I did not venture far to realize that rather than a dead end, I’d come to an impasse.

A few days after the temple, I marched through an acid field with starspear in hand. The sorcery to fly between islands and gravity fields takes exhaustive toll, and two feet on the ground made everything feel. . . almost normal. Brought my mind to peace to walk through a treacherous territory, and feel the heat of acid scorching the ends of my fur.

Gysers spewed violet smoke from purple pools. My fur stood upright from the rising hot air. I stepped over the neon green rock—iridescent from some chemical processes in the hot acid—to make way. The acid sliced through the rock and stayed still like water in a low tide pool, carving all manner of miniature islands and peninsulas out of the solid stone.

Above, the molten material spewed from the geysers crystalized into floating island structures—whose own internal gravity appeared far too strong for the mass they maintained. Mounds of bacteria grew from the mouths of acid, and patches of fungi layered over the crystalline islands above.

Wind tore through my fur, spraying acid in my wake. My skin tightened. My whiskers twitched. My soul flared.

A rift tore through the sky blowing smoke in a storm. A brilliant burn brighter than sunlight screeched above me. A vessel without form—who evaded my eyes’ ability to focus—shifted through the light spectrum and pulsated with effervescent energy.

I’d seen such a ship before. Not in the singular but in mass.

From the vessel came the halting shriek of an opening pressure lock. A beam of light blasted fifty meters away onto the scorched stone. From the beam stepped a mouse in wicked deep blue armor, the edges of which shimmered with an orange sheen.

The armor cloaked the mouse’s entire body from head to tail. The ears were even protected with some biomechanical skin. The orange sheen to the blue—so intensely polished—reflected none of the acid field’s greens and purples, as if adverse to the colors and lights of this universe and entirely set apart.

I drew my starspear from my Boundless Bag, and churned stonefire in my gut.

The mouse marched across the acid plane, boots cracking into stone and walking on the pools’ surface. He stopped twenty meters away and opened his hand. The visors on his helm leaked blue and orange smoke.

“You have brought attention to yourself, mirror,” said the Alfarin, chin rising in superiority. “Did you run from the flight by choice? I take no mirror of mine to be so foolish as to seek the path from which they flee.”

I twirled my starspear, “I know of no flight.” Would this alfa recognize me as Opaline of Dahn? Would my soul read differently, or would I present as one of many?

The Alfarin opened his hand, “I shall show you.”

“I have no doubt you would.”

“Your soul speaks to stonefire. Your voice sings to truth.” The alfa gestured once more to take his hand although he stood so far away. “I came to handle a deserter and I find a blessing—one who has not taken flight. Join me. Join us. It is a destiny we cannot resist.”

The surreality of standing before a being cultured and commanded by my future self did not evade me. Opsalat controlled the Alfarin, but how did he form the army? Where did these millions of mice hail from?

Who was this mouse in the armor?

“What is your name?” I said.

“I am Alfarin. I was discounted and now fly. I am one of many. Merely a mouse. Only a mouse.”

Chills ran up my spine. Is this the destiny Malabeenith promised me? Imusi. . . mouse?

“As am I. Yet I have a name.”

“You are Alfarin. Your name will be left at your feet once you rise into the stars.”

“I cannot come with you.”

“Only your fear stands in your way,” the alfa said, voice sharp. He took his hand at his side and began to pace across the acid field.

“I will not come with you.”

The alfa extended his hand. The cuff on his wrist lit like fresh formed stonefire, then melted down his hand in a split second. The molten material ignited into the shape of a blade attached to his wrist—swallowing his hand. The blade vibrated, still heated orange and blue.

A saber of stonefire.

The weapon shrieked and smoked.

“Tell me the name that will be left at your feet,” said the Alfarin, “tell me so that if I must destroy you, I may whisper your name into the annals as tragedy.”

“You don’t wish for that.”

“If you do not join me, I will strike you down. You hold too much power to be left free of destiny. I wish to destroy you in dignity.”

“And what if my name will destroy you?”

The Alfarin cocked his head. The blade at his side burned so brightly. He slowly rose into the air. A calm show of ascended power. “What will the name of my mirror do. . . destroy me? You are one of me. We are the same.”

This was an individual corrupted by power. This was a person manipulated and beaten into submission by a force so undeniable that he would say such things as “You are one of me.” The sorrow in such a statement couldn’t elude me—it crushed me slow, like a suffocation under snow.

“I am Opaline of Dahn.”

When I spoke those words—and I spoke my name with no regret, remorse, or expectation of reckoning, merely as fact—I realized I’d plunged into the unknown.

The great unknown lie not in the farthest reaches of a star’s rays, or the touch of a comet’s tail through a brilliant newborn nebula, or the graceful edge of a galaxy’s outermost particles, but instead in the conceptualization of self.

My mind opened when I told my mirror my name.

END


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