The time is here. After all the time you spent submitting ideas, now you can vote on them and make one bonus story into a reality! But that's not all, one lucky artist gets a commission to draw the art for the bonus story you choose! Choose wisely. The link to vote is below, and we also have some images from each of our artists so you can decide who to pick!
The game is on, so...
ClICK HERE TO VOTE!
(or paste this link into your browser)
So then, lets meet the artists shall we?
Olivia Hinkel is a long time collaborator of mine who worked with me on the art for "An Eloquence of Time and Space" and "Cryptos". She's a master of a vast number of styles and materials, and a real talent.
You can find more of her art at: http://www.oliviahinkel.com/
Rachel was the first person to draw fan art for 10,000 Dawns, and has since cemented herself as one of our go-to artists on the project. She's done the art for multiple bonus stories, and is constantly growing as an artist in her work.
You can find more of Rachel's art here: http://blindmansun.tumblr.com/tagged/my%20art
Chase had a booth right across from me at Indy Pop Con, and his bold, clean, comic book style instantly left a mark on me. I was lucky enough to get him to draw Arch for the 10kd artist's showcase. Any one is lucky to have his art.
You can find more of Chase's art here: http://chase-jones-2015.deviantart.com/
I met Nozomi at Indy Pop Con, where I was really taken by her art. Nozomi doesn't just use her art style flatly, she's playful with it, inventive. and captures snapshots of emotions beautifully.
You can find more of Nozomi Neko's art here: http://nozomi-neko.deviantart.com/gallery/
Raen has provided some great pieces of art for us at 10kd, including the first pictures of Kinan Jans! I met her at Wizard World Philadelphia, where she drew me a doodle of the 10th Doctor. Her style is so distinct, so well formed, you can tell its a Raen Ngu drawing instantly, even though each drawing captures something different.
You can find more of Raen Ngu's art here: http://raenngu.tumblr.com/
Good luck to all of our awesome artists! -Jim
Wow, we have a lot to tell you before we start this week! First off, the 10,000 Dawns Bonus story Contest is now in its voting stage! You can vote on one of five stories to decide which we will write, as well as choosing the artist who will illustrate it! You can vote on it right:
Second off, Annie and I have decided we're going to release the last few chapters of 10,000 Dawns all at once! After Chapter 25, we'll take a short break (filled with bonus stories, naturally) and then give you the dramatic conclusion to the story in one big bite! This will not only let Annie focus on getting the art right, but let you experience the ending the way it really should be read. We can't wait for you to read it, and we're so glad you came with us on this journey so far!
Thirdly, Annie and I did a great interview with Barebones Entertainment about our work on 10kd. Its a fun read, so go check it out at the link below!:
Finally, 10,000 Dawns: Anthology is well underway, and after Graelyn and Arch's tale ends, you can expect some really amazing stories from other writers and me later this year. You're gunna have a good time! We're so lucky to have fans like you, and we can't wait for you to see whats coming next! -Jim
Art by Annie Zhu, Story by James Wylder
All chapters are now available as a podcast from the Southgate Media Group!
You can subscribe to the podcast version on iTunes and your RSS feed easily from libsyn:
If you're new to 10kd, you can read the story from the start for free below:
You can download the latest chapter below in PDF or epub formats:
Chapter 24: Rise
Graelyn found herself in a supply closet, it was too small for the orb to fit in, so she must have landed somewhere away from it. Her face felt raw and ached, like someone had been rubbing it with a metal file. Her legs were sorer than they had ever been, her lungs were still short of breath. Her belly throbbed with pain, and she suspected she might have broken ribs. She sort of hoped the blast had disabled her uterus permanently so she could live easier every month, but she suspected this wouldn’t be case. Life was full of disappointments. She wanted to get up and run after Arch, but she couldn’t, and she didn’t even know where he was anyways. Not to mention this pile of cleaning supplies was really quite comfortable, she should stock up when she gets home. Yes, quite comfortable. Yes, quite.
The ceiling was incredibly white. She sat up, and felt the blood shift in her body suddenly, felt the IV’s pull on her arm. She wasn’t wearing her spacesuit—she was wearing a hospital gown. She held back any panic, and sat calmly, flexing her joints to guess how long she’d been asleep. It wasn’t a hard science, but it had to at least have been a few days.
A man entered her room wearing a period Doctor’s outfit- excuse me- it was probably totally at home in this era, she was the anachronism wasn’t she? He was holding a tablet pc, and scrolling through some things on it. “I’m glad to see you’re up. We kept you sedated to keep you from pulling out any of the stitches, you had quite a bit of internal bleeding.
“Is everything… Fine?” She said, still groggy.
“Yes, thanks to modern medicine,” ha, “everything is working properly now. There was some extensive damage to your Uterus, Bladder, and Liver but they’re all back to normal, nothing to worry about.” She let her jaw slip in disappointment—she wasn’t going to do it herself or anything, but not having periods would have been great. “Don’t worry,” he said, totally misreading her, “You can still have children.”
“Fantastic.” She muttered, and looked around the room, “Where exactly am I Doctor…” ah, a nametag! “Miles.”
“You’re in St. Andrew’s Hospital, connected to St. Andrew’s University in Maryland.”
“Okay. Second query: you knew my name, but I don’t think I was carrying any sort of identification.” The Doctor scrolled through some files on his tablet.
“It says here the estate of your great Uncle Heirum J. Whitehead took care of it.” Graelyn had no uncle named that, let alone a great one.
“Did he leave me a message? He usually does when he does things like this.” She lied briskly. The Doctor scrolled and tapped a few times. “It should be on the tablet by your bedside.” She picked it up, and read the just transferred note. She’d never met Heirum, but the guy sure could get things done.
* * * * *
She slept, and awoke. The window was open, and instinctively Graelyn slid out of bed, trying to ignore the pain, and walked over to it. On the sill was a butterfly, slowly moving its wings up and down. Graelyn peered down at it, there was something odd about it. Reaching down, she felt like she should pull its wings off, but held back, and put a finger down next to the creature. To her surprise, it climbed on. Raising it to her face, she looked it it. The wings were an ethereal blue, and their patterns and shapes were like nothing from nature. It seemed to glow. Her eyes shifted from the mesmerizing creature, which seamed to unfurl a new mystery with each beat of its wings, to the window: hospital windows didn't open. The butterfly took off, and Graelyn turned to see the walls and ceiling were coated with them. On the bed was a cat, but not a nice cat. Its eyes were malicious. It hissed, and she felt a songbird die somewhere. As its tail swished, the butterflies moved their wings in unison. Graelyn raised her arms, and the first notes of Mozarts 5th symphony played, like she was conducting it.
And as she did so, the butterflies fell off the walls and the ceiling, and splattered into rain on the ground. The cat squealed in terror.
And Graelyn woke up, sheets crumpled, still unable to walk.
* * * * *
It was another month before Graelyn was ready to leave the hospital, which had been in the note, so she didn’t fight it. It was pretty clear what was going on anyways, and if she could time travel from here it didn’t matter how long she lollygagged. She passed the time by eating lots of snacks and watching the video screen in her hospital room, or trying out socialization. Across the barrier in the same room was a girl named Alondra who had broken her leg on a school Ski-trip, and liked keeping a constant stream of words coming from her mouth like she was afraid if she left part of a conversation silent something would slip into her soul. She didn’t talk to Graelyn at first though,
“I’d thought you weren’t going to wake up.” She said when they finally got to talking. “You were really beat up, there were weird burns on your face in stripes like you’d been lashed by a Balrog or something.”
She raised her eyebrow, “Balrog?”
“You know, flaming whip, big leathery wings, fights Gandalf—‘YOU SHALL NOT PASS!’” she said, slamming her tray with one hand while she pulled her long black hair into a fake beard. “Lord of the Rings?”
“Oh. I see. I’ve never read it.” Alondra’s eyes went wide, “You’ve never ever read the Lord of the Rings? The Hobbit, at least?” Graelyn shook her head, and Alondra made a point of making the nurse bring her all four books. Graelyn was a bit grateful, Arch was older than her after all, more mature and yet totally sheltered due to his isolated upbringing. Graelyn had lived a solitary life, she wasn’t a social butterfly, she wasn’t even social or a butterfly. She liked her cocoon. Alondra was almost the same age as her, a little younger and treated her like it. She hobbled over and did Graelyn’s hair, though she was rubbish at returning the favor. Graelyn read through the four books quickly, and took on the Silmarillion (“Oh that’s a tough read you might not want to-“) and easily sped through that to. They were good books. Tolkien’s attempt to create a new mythology for England was a noble one, and Graelyn was struck how long it was since she had been to Russia at this point, outside of fifteen minutes of her own childhood of course. Those fifteen minutes had been the only time she’d spoken Russian for more than a few moments in the last year as well. She felt something welling up inside her she couldn’t put a label on. She remembered how she’d seen Arch as an experiment when she’d found him, something to explore rather than a person. If the accident hadn’t happened that had sent them spiraling through time, would she have taken him apart piece by piece like the roadkill in the woods? She hadn’t ever killed an animal, just taken apart dead ones, not that many people would understand the difference. What if she had killed Arch? She felt her home beating in her chest, and the guilt at losing Arch and almost betraying him.
No, I wouldn’t have betrayed him. Surely. I’m not that person.
“Do you dream Graelyn?”
“Most of the time, usually.” Alondra’s nimble fingers were trying something complex and slightly poofy she seemed delighted with, “why do you ask?”
“You were unconscious so long, I always wondered; If I were asleep that long maybe I’d go to another place, like I slipped through a hole in the world and my mind fell through.”
“I’m not sure I’d go that far in believing something.”
“Just hear me out—I mean, when I’m skiing I sometimes feel like as I go down the slope I’m not actually on the slope, like I’m just driving my body, my skis as much my limbs as my arms or legs. I lose track of what is and isn’t me. Which makes me wonder if my body is me—if there was a version of me with the same number of cells, the same genome, the same voice, but who didn’t feel the same way I did, would it really be me, or would it just like a black and white copy of a color picture—it shows the same thing but you know its different.”
“This is awful hypothetical.”
“Sorry to unload it all on you, my girlfriend usually gets the brunt of it, but she’s off at this teen space camp.”
“You have a girlfriend?”
“I didn’t mention her? Oh my God I didn’t mention her! She wanted to come visit but I told her she sure as hell wasn’t ruining her chance at space just to cheer me up. I usually call her when you’re asleep, you sleep a lot no offense, so we have some privacy. I can’t believe that I forgot to mention her!”
Graelyn shrugged, which surprised Alondra and she had to start over at whatever she was doing with her hair.
“Its alright. I haven’t mentioned a lot of people.”
“Well tell me, where does Graelyn Scythes come from? That’s an unusual name.”
“Russia. I was born in Moscow, but I grew up in a small farming town where my parents owned a house for a few years, before we moved back. There's not much to tell about it.” Her fingers weaved the shiny black strands of her hair again into a new shape.
“Curious aren't we?”
“That's a pretty normal question.” Graelyn felt like shrugging, but refrained for the sake of Alondra's work. “I'm a very private person, and not a particularly normal one. I do have siblings. More than you'd expect, actually. But I keep in touch with none of them, and even less with my parents.” There was silence for a bit as she braided. Graelyn could faintly see in the small reflection on a monitor that her lips were pursed.
“Did I say something dis-pleasurable?”
“No, no no no, I just can't imagine growing up like that, you know? Or I guess you don't.”
“Tell me about your girlfriend.”
“Well,” she said with an aire of wispy longing in her tone, “June is-”
“June?!?” Graelyn ejaculated.
“Do you know her?” Graelyn thought how best to answer that question. It wasn't an easy one to really start.
“Yeah, sort of. I doubt she remembers me. I've met her though, just once. I'm surprised I remember her to be honest. I was just so surprised, it seems like an awful big co-incidence.” Graelyn reached into her pocket and pulled out the cat pin, looking on it fondly, “Its hard to forget, we had the same pin.”
Alondra looked at her hand, “you can't have the same pin. That's impossible, it’s a family heirloom.”
“Is it? I didn't ask I just noticed.”
“Could I see it.” Graelyn saw no reason why not, so she placed it gently in Alondra's palm, and then felt the urge to push down on it slightly so she could feel the shape of its nature, so she followed her own urges and pushed. It was an insignificant action, but it didn't feel like it, it felt like she'd pressed the button on a payload of bombs.
Alondra looked on the backside of the pin and nodded, “It says here, ' DB to KL, corporeal tangent' and then a little heart symbol. “Corporeal tangent?”
“It’s something one of her ancestors made for their fiancé when they went off to fight in the second world war. It’s made of copper, that's why the metal part is green, it patinaed and they decided they liked the way it looked green better than copper colored so they placed a sealant over it so it wouldn't rub off. They've passed it on over and over to the oldest sibling. Its handmade. There's no way you'd have it unless you stole it from her or she gave it to you.”
“Call her. Ask her if she still has the pin.” Alondra bit her lip, “If you took it you're giving it back or I'm taking it from you.” Graelyn shrugged, Alondra having forgotten about the hair appointment. “Maybe he made a prototype, I don't know. I got it in a thrift shop.”
Alondra didn't talk to Graelyn till she made the call, and seemed to treat her as though she wasn't even present in the same room as her till that time came. June appeared on the Holoprojector, clearly tired, “Can we keep it short tonight? They ran us through this machine that simulated a ton of G's and we all puked. I'm totally spent.”
“June, do you still have your pin? The green one, with the cat on it?” She adjusted her camera so you could see her breast, it was clearly there, and her face showed the puzzlement of someone who had just been asked if she still had her hand.
“Yeah? I only take it off if I have to.” Alondra looked over at Graelyn, who was trying to not have an “I knew I was right” expression plastered all over her face. She did a very good job.
“I mean, the girl I'm rooming with here, Graelyn?”
“She has a pin just like that. It even has the same inscription.”
“The exact same one?”
“Yeah.” June paused, she nodded.
“You need to call my mom.”
Mrs. Barker arrived at 4:30, right as Graelyn was hitting chapter 19. She came bearing an old photo album, one of the ones made of paper bound with metal rings. The thing was an antique, and had been coated with some sort of transparent layer that strengthened and preserved it, but made it look funny to the eye, like it was a bad computer graphic. She first greeted Alondra; she seemed to get along with her daughter’s girlfriend swimmingly, like she was already a favored daughter in law. “Hello Graelyn.” She said after a time, coming over to her bed. She looked at her, the gaze of someone looking at someone you’d heard of, or seen in photographs, but never seen before in person. She motioned towards the edge of the bed, and Graelyn gave a slight nod. Sitting down, her hips bumping Graelyn’s feet, she spread the photo album on her lap. The pages had already begun aging before it had been sealed, and it looked like the kind of old document you might see in drama, with yellow cracking pages that somehow held together perfectly. Thanks to the sealant, it also looked strangely inauthentic. The photographs were of a man in an army air core outfit, and a woman in a decidedly 1940’s haircut, and… Graelyn. The other two were smiling, Graelyn had the expression of a person who doesn’t want to be in a picture but is doing so for the sake and happiness of other people, possibly in this case herself. She felt like saying, “That’s me!” but held back as it was neither necessary or frugal, and would probably just make her look like an idiot.
“That’s you!” Mrs. Barker said.
“Yes it is. Well, that’s revealing.” Mrs. Baker got up and closed the door. She held the handle behind her back for a moment as though someone might try to barge their way in. “You have no idea how long our family has been waiting to meet you. Honestly, until I got my daughter’s message I thought you were just an insane person who saved my great great... well, a lot of greats grandfather’s life, I didn’t actually believe what you told them.”
“What exactly did I tell them, because I haven’t told them anything yet?” Alondra’s eyes were wide, she was totally erect in bed, watching and listening as closely as she could manage.”
“That you were from an alternate reality and the future.”
“I was that upfront about that? Huh.”
“Would you mind if I saw the pin?” Mrs. Barker asked. Graelyn nodded and slipped it into her palm. She ran her thumb along it, smiling faintly. “Its all true then.”
“I suppose?” Mrs. Barker looked over at Alondra, placing her hand reassuringly on Graelyn's calf.
“Alondra, you have to keep all of this secret. No one can know what we talked about in here today.”
“Sandy.” She cut in.
“Sandy, uh, you don't really believe she is from an alternate reality in the future do you? I mean...” Sandy cut her off.
“Alondra, when my many-greats-grandfather was fighting in the second World War II, this young woman stopped his plane from falling out of the air. She wore a cat pin, just like the one he had made for his fiance, only it was old.”
“Wait I stopped a plane from crashing?!?! How!?!?”
“He actually wrote you a guide, he said you'd need to study it.” She apparently would.
“This is crazy.” Alondra said.
“Honestly, its getting pretty normal for me.” Graelyn murmured.
“Graelyn, sweetie, you're going to do great, and you can stay with us as long as you need.”
“Stay with you? I mean, how will fit into society, I haven't been born yet.”
“So weird....” Alondra whispered.
“Actually,” the man at the door, who had quietly opened it, said, “Mr. Heirum J. Whitehead's estate has taken care of all of that.”
* * * * *
Graelyn was for some reason attending class at a High School. This wasn’t particularly how she’d seen jumping through a portal through time going. How old was she now even? She’d lost track. Was she even still a teenager? She tried to count the days but she had by all accounts lost track. There had been too many leaps and jumps and crossed time streams. She remembered the look on her own face—or was it her own face? Did another reality’s version of herself count as her? As Songbird Kicked her out the window. She had no idea who she was anymore. That Graelyn had broken the promise though—maybe she’d lost the right to the name.
Is that all I am now—a promise of a little girl throwing herself out a window?
She sat down at her desk and looked over at June and her girlfriend who were clearly flirting. In a few years June would be in the academy for space travel, in a few more she’d be with Graelyn on Triton starting the loop that got Graelyn here in the first place. It hardly seemed to make sense, it hardly seemed to fit together at all. But here she was, studying things in the past.
“Good morning class” the teacher said, “now today we’re going to learning about—Ryan, sit down. Trinity you to! – okay, uh, we’re going to be learning about igneous rocks…”
Graelyn already knew all about Igneous rocks. She could probably teach a class on Igneous rocks. But this, she supposed, was the downside of time traveling. You could get stuck in history taking a class that was hyper advanced for your own age group at the time but that you easily passed years ago.. .Still, it wasn’t a bad review. Graelyn didn’t usually study geology, so the lessons on Igneous rocks were really a handy refresher, and she didn’t feel like she was wasting that much of her time. English courses puzzled her a bit, she was enjoying them but the classes were really slow at reading, and since she had focused on the sciences she was actually learning an incredible amount in them. Math courses were however basically a rote action for her—she was in the school’s most advanced courses, and she was far beyond them in ways they couldn’t imagine. She had gotten her internship by being able to calculate the probable locations of other dimensions through a hypothetical time space rift at 16, or at least that was what she figured in hindsight now that she knew John Aril's real intentions. Advanced Calculus was essentially spelling “C-A-T” to her at this point in her life. Luckily the teacher had given them the whole syllabus so she’d been able to complete every single assignment for the year in the first week. She now spent her math classes being a student assistant and running errands, or doing her own math work.
“So what is ‘456R-25K’?”
“Well, if you're mapping dimensions, most of them are hypothetically going to be nearly identical. Many of them have differences so slight it’s impossible to tell where exactly they diverge. For example, there is a whole other reality for every different speed it takes to press a single key down on a keyboard, for every slight position it would hit, and that’s just for every reality you hit that same key.” Graelyn explained to the math teacher.
“I’ve given each identical reality a designation, usually a number and letter to distinguish them. However, what’s notable is when there is a convergence- a link between two dimensions for whatever reason. Those are labeled with a two letter-number combinations. If you start to track dimensions, you can figure out where these holes are supposed to be, because they’re sort of… fixed points. Dimensions can continually branch off and make new ones to infinity, but there is something special about two that are linked, they begin to take on a certain… stability. Not in the sense that they are more socially stable or anything, the universe isn’t concerned with that, er, universes, but rather that they are more real than other universes, to put it in layman’s terms. They’re… anchored. As soon as a person moves from one universe to the other, it creates a bond between them.” She paused, “Hypothetically of course.”
The teacher looked at her wide eyed.
“Where did you say you transferred from?”
“I was homeschooled.” She lied, “By the lead programmers of Talinata Softworks.” He nodded slowly, “The AI developers.”
“Yes, though they’ve clearly moved beyond that.”
The truth was that Graelyn didn’t solve all of her troubles with an epiphany, and that even though she hit the ground she felt like she hadn’t stopped falling ever since. The epiphany, that moment of pure clarity that changed Graelyn Scythes from one person into another, didn’t do so by force. In reality, it simply opened up a question inside her: who is this woman I don’t want to fall? She didn’t know. She had no idea, and as time went on she settled on two versions of herself, standing on opposite sides of a scale. One was an altruist, but a pragmatic one. Every breath she took served a greater good, but she would be taken in by no one. She would be volcano, erupting to protect the weak, and stoking a fire in her heart. The other was a fortress. She would cut out the things that could cause her pain, build up walls, and freeze her blood to ice. She would be impervious, and impartial. The ultimate scientist, only using her facts and not her heart. But even these simple ideals proved elusive—try as she might she never ended up one or the other, and a third woman came to being—a woman who was a bulldozer. She could run over her enemies, she could harness the power of the volcano and the pragmatism of the scientist and crush anyone who could cut through her walls. She had no idea who she wanted to be, only that she didn’t want to fall.
Graelyn had had a boyfriend, and a girlfriend. She hadn’t loved either of them, she’d simply wondered if she could get one. She succeeded, and when they left her or she left them she made sure to note their emotional reactions. She felt nothing, at least, she tried to convince herself she felt nothing, and she took copious notes. She felt the fortress inside her, and fire and ice at war in her heart.
But not everything went according to plan.
Of course it did at first—Graelyn got the job at project Atlantis, despite her parent’s protests, and felt a jolt of pleasure at their anger at her when they couldn’t control her. But then Arch came floating down, and she felt like she couldn’t have done anything different, as though from that moment as he fell there wasn’t a choice anymore. She wasn’t sure what was inside her now, it wasn’t fire, ice, or steel, she couldn’t name it, like a figure in a dark room of a stranger.
June yelled, cheering on Alondra as she dribbled her way down the court. The crowd was fairly small, not many people showed up for a high school basketball game on the same Saturday as a big 7-Shuck match at the stadium, which was also being broadcast around the world. But June, now back from space camp, loved her girlfriend, and Graelyn was well practiced at keeping up appearances. The crowd yelled and jeered something, and Graelyn's text scrolled down automatically as it's camera sensed her eyes had finished reading the words at the bottom of the tablet's screen. Learning how to forge a letter was hard, but it would apparently be necessary. She was lucky people in the 1940's didn't know how to spot modern advances in replicating Franklin Dellano Roosevelt's signature.
“I can't believe this Ref! Can you?” Graelyn shrugged.
“I'm sure it was extremely unfair. They'll be doing an expose of it on the news tonight.”
“Be serious.” June said.
“I am wild.” Graelyn said drolly as she opened another book.
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“Its from a book, forget about it.” Alondra had made her way to the net, and with a rousing leap, dunked the ball into the hoop. Graelyn politely clapped as the small crowd erupted.
“Now that was amazing!” June yelled.
“It was pretty good, yeah.”
“If you're so moderate about being here, why did you come.” Graelyn looked up at June.
“An honest answer there would be something akin to a speech.” A whistle blew, and the fans cheered for their respective teams as they went to the locker rooms.
“Well, its halftime, so I have time to listen.” The dance team came out, and Graelyn was actually interested in watching them intently and listening to what song they picked, so she tried to get her speech done quickly.
“I'm here because you're people who aren't mean to me, and haven't left me yet. I don't even know if I like either of you, to be honest, but in my experience it matters more if a person treats you well than if you have anything in common. I'd take a friend who I can't have a conversation with but is there for me over one who is only there when the weather is fair and the sky is clear. I'd take a friend who I can't relate to but respects my existence over one who can joke with me but treats me as less than I'm worth any day.” And I'm not worth much, she left off.
“What the hell kind of world is waiting for us in the future?” The dance team got in their positions.
“One where they make girl's named Graelyn who like watching well done entwinements of music and dance, shh.” They watched the performance in silence. It was okay.
* * * *
Alondra and June were cuddling on the couch while Graelyn sat on the floor. They were eating pizza rolls, a dish that Graelyn had admittedly never tried before. They were okay. On the screen in front of them was the extended cut of “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” an ancient movie to be sure, but Graelyn was enjoying it. Alondra and June made some frantic flailing motions as one of June's other mom Emily walked in front of the screen.
“She hasn't seen this yet mom!” June pleaded.
“Did someone call for mom?” Sandy said from the other room.
“The other one!” June yelled. Fred, one of June's dads, who had come in to bring them drinks, laughed.
“Oh come on Fred, like they haven't done that with you and Devon.” He handed Graelyn a bubbly glass of ginger ale, and smiled at her.
“Yeah, but we make bad joke about it.” Emily rolled her eyes.
“Seriously, mom, dad, we're watching a movie.”
“Did someone call for dad?” Devon yelled from the other room.”
“Hi dad, I'm dad.” Fred yelled. The dad's laughed.
“Jesus.” Alondra said, rewinding the movie. The Fellowship of the Ring fro the movie's title was approaching a bridge in an underground city that had been overrun by creatures called Orcs, and a wizard called Gandalf was facing off with a big winged demon called a Balrog.
“You shall not pass!” The wizard said, and split the bridge with his staff. They both fell into the void. Graelyn dropped her pizza roll.
Before Graelyn's eyes stood a map of the universes. They were anchored to each other through gashes, and the same gashes could slip you into different places in that univere's time, as well as a phyiscal location in it.
There was a chasm between each of those spots, and they had latched onto the other side. The fellowship had crossed the chasm, and then broken the road. Here Graelyn was, trapped on one side of a divide in time, while Arch was somewhere else.
And the more she thought about it, the more she knew it had to be in World War II. So she had to get to World War II. But she had no way to guide the journey. The bag Kinan had given her when she'd left had some of Kinan's dust, but there was no way she could use the Labyrinth to get around, even if there was a Labyrinth in this world it would be cut off to her since she had no one to take her through the locked gates. But she didn't have to just drop into the void. She had something she knew had to be on the otherside: Her ring of power. The cat pin. She had no idea if it would work: maybe she would just drown in the sea of murky nothing between the universes. Maybe she would go mad. But she would not condemn Arch to death by inaction. This was her best and only shot. She knew exactly what she had to do.
The next morning, at breakfast, Graelyn had laid out a tablet for June with a document pre-loaded on it. June came downstairs, and didn't notice the tablet for fifteen minutes as she made herself toast, and then sat down, looking at it.
“That, is everything you need to know about how we meet in the future. I had to exclude a few things you didn't know, because well, you didn't know them, but it should be mostly complete.” June picked it up and began to read it, then bit her lip and set it down, looking Graelyn straight in the eyes.
“You're leaving today, aren't you?”
“Well, I'm going to try.”
Graelyn had said goodbye so many times now. It seemed like every time she hopped through a portal she met someone she would never forget, who would be a universe away. Alice, Lizette, Manuel. Kinan, John, Miranda. Now, June, Alondra, and June's four parents.
They hugged each other, and Graelyn listened to their platitudes. Their time together had meant something, surely, but Graelyn wanted to get it over with. She hated saying goodbye, but Arch needed her, and she couldn't stay comfortable for too long.
If she was being honest, it didn't suit her.
She took a cab to Saint Andrew's Hospital, and on the way dialed the number for Talinata Softworks.
“Hello! Talinata Softworks. I'm our answering AI, WeN-D! How can I help you?”
“Hi, WeN-D, my name is Graelyn Scythes. I need to talk to whoever paid my hospital bill.” WeN-D was silent for a moment, “I'll connect you right away.” She did.
“Hello?” A gruff voice replied.
“Hi, I'm Graelyn Scythes, and I need to get back into the supplies room I woke up in in Saint Andrew's Hospital.”
“There is nothing there, we swept it clean.”
“Nothing you can see.” More silence. The sound of something being moved across the floor.
“We'll meet you there right away.”
When she arrived at the hospital, an androgynous person met her at the door, wearing a suit sunglasses, and an earpiece.
“Talinata Softworks representative?”
“Yes. Follow me.” Without another word she was lead through the building, and up to the supplies room, which was empty. She looked at the person, “I need to change, and do what I came here to do. Close the door.” They nodded.
“Mister Whitehead sends his regards.”
“If I ever meet him, and he's not dead like he apparently is right now, I'll be sure to return them.” The person nodded, blankfaced, and shut the door. Graelyn quickly disrobed, and put on her spacesuit. She stuffed the rest of her belongings back into the bag, reserving some of the crystal dust, and the cat pin. Carefully, she put on the spacehelmet, and reached her hand out in front of her. She couldn't see anything, but she could feel it, like she had a new sense now that had opened up in her mind. There was a tear here in what was natural, sealed up to the human eye, but not healed. She could tear it open again, like a seam ripper. She pulled out the cat pin, and holding it up to where she felt the sensation in the air, used her other hand to throw the crystal dust at the same spot. At first, she thought it had been an idiotic idea, a foolish notion on her part, but then she was proven wrong.
The air began to swirl around her hand. She reached down and grabbed her bag quickly, and the portal formed around the cat pin. She tried to focus on World War II, on the plane. She hoped she'd grabbed everything she would need from the store for it. She hoped the portal would work. She hoped it wouldn't tear her apart.
It swirled, and her thoughts were cut off as she was sucked inside, spiraling down through the centuries, leaving only memories behind.
* * * *
Graelie Scythes woke up to find she had gotten mail. She never got mail, and with her first court ordered meeting with the therapist tomorrow, it was an odd time to start. Her mom read it first, confused, and threw it in the trash, but later that night she snuck out of her room and fished it out.
You don't know me, but maybe someday you will. I know that written mail is an oddity aside from packages, so I apologize if this freaks you out. I heard you are going through a hard time right now, and I wanted you to have this. If all had gone correctly, my descendants have sent you this cat pit as a token of our affection for you from afar. I can't tell you what your future holds, but I do know that when we meet, we will be friends. Until then, hold onto this pin as a reminder that someone remembers you, even from afar.
Sincerely, June Barker”
Graelyn slid the pin out of the envelope, and looked at it. It was old, but well taken care of. She slid the pin onto her pajama top as an experiment, and looked at herself in the mirror. The letter was clearly a prank, they'd probably write later asking for money or something, but for now having the pin on her breast felt comforting. As he looked at the image of a cat, she began to think about them, how nice it would be to have a companion like this imaginary letter writer. Maybe, she thought. She'd ask for a cat. Yes, that would do. That would do nicely.
Come back next week to see where Graelyn ends up... As her journey nears its end!
With the Hugo awards coming up, I thought I'd throw my hat in the ring for "Best Novelette" with one of my more popular stories from my 2015 Anthology "The Dark and Splendid Diary of Danielle Simpson", the Arthurian Pastiche "A Less Holy Grail." I have provided the story for free to read in this post. If you're nominating for the Hugos this year, please place it under your consideration. -Jim
A Less Holy Grail, by James Wylder
Sir Claudin dismounted, and patted his horse on the neck. It was a chilly morning, and his breath rolled out of his mouth, sinking slightly towards the ground and the cave in front of him as though to say, “Really Claudin, this isn't the best way to spend your mornings.” But this is what quests did to a man, and finding the Holy Grail was just one of those things Knights did. It didn't hurt that Camelot needed it pretty desperately, but he might have been looking for it regardless. He couldn't shake the sense that his feet would have slipped over the side of his bed and he'd be walking here no matter what he'd set out to do this morning. The crag overlooking these rough rocks and this cave would have called him here, and opened up from the side of the hills. He'd have walked away from his horse without turning his head, and stepped into the shadows. With an actual reason, he still did all of this.
His feet both crunched on things, and splashed in thin puddles. As he stepped forward, the feeling around his feet began to subside and he had the sadly satiable urge to turn back. He shoved it out of his mind, and pressed on; the walls of the cave seemed to close in on him slightly, then push out, like he was in the body of a living creature rather than a hole in some rock. As he pressed downward, the light grew dimmer till he was walking in total darkness. He was a part of the creature now, it had enveloped him.
Finally, he saw a faint glow coming from around a bend, and he rushed forward, careening and stumbling till he ran shoulder first into the rock wall and gazed at what lay beyond. There was a stone chimney, and smoke was rising up into it from a fire. On the fire roasted a chunk of pig or boar, and next to the fire on a tree log stool sat a corpse. It was awful erect for a corpse, its back straight and its head seeming to be focused on the fire. It must have been stuffed or something in order to stay tha- ashfuklawdyf it moved!
Its head turned, slowly, stilted, like a puppet. Its skin was bleached white, and too taught on its bones. One of its eye sockets was gouged out, and the other held an eye so pale blue it looked as though it had never seen the sun. The lips were so pulled back and withered, it basically just had teeth. As such, when its jaw moved, and words came out. It sounded a little funny.
“Hello friend. Come sit by the fire. I’m roasting a boar. Or maybe it’s a wild pig, honestly I never knew what the difference was.” He carefully moved towards the figure, and sat down at another log stool next to the fire.
“Good, I knew you’d be coming. These things always happen. People come at their correct time, and I am ready for them. Its nice to know some things still work the way they’re supposed to in this world. I don’t.” Claudin nodded at the corpse, who leaned in and turned the spit the pig/boar was roasting on. “Good, looks about ready to eat. Do you want to eat boy?” Claudin was silent.
“They say you should never take food from faeries or strange beings in the forest. They’re right you know, mostly. I can’t say they are about me in that regard however, I’m a rather boring anomaly. You should try some, I even went and picked some seasonings.” The thing ripped off a piece of the roast with its hand, cleanly, and set it on a wooden plate, which it handed to Claudin. “Eat! Eat. You’ve got to keep your strength up. You don’t want to end up like me.” Claudin knew he should eat it, so he did. It watched him till he was finished. It then handed him a stoneware cup of mulled mead, which was in a pot also over the flame he hadn’t noticed, and began to sip it.
“What is your name?”
“And what do you seek to come into my cave?”
“I seek the holy Grail.”
“Okay. Which one?”
Claudin stopped, and tried not to spit out his drink, but he let out a small trickle despite it.
“What do you mean which one? There’s only one holy Grail!” The corpse sighed.
“Look kid, how much do you know about Judaism?”
Claudin mulled it over for a moment and stalled with an elongated sip of his mulled mead.
“A bit, I mean not very much.”
“You wouldn’t, clearly.” The corpse rolled its eye. “Tell me kid, what is the holy grail.”
“The cup Jesus drank from at the last supper.”
“Okay which cup?”
“What do you mean which cup! Its one of the most sacred relics in all of Christendom!” Claudin stood up, slightly angry, but honestly more for effect.
“In the Jewish Passover ceremony there are four cups of wine. Four, not one. Now, Jesus didn’t drink from all four from the biblical accounts, but he did drink at least two or three. So which one do you want?”
“I really don’t know. No one ever told me that before.”
“Well, they wouldn’t would they? It complicates the whole quest thing now doesn’t it?” Claudin nodded, and decided he may as well ask.
“I… Heard a rumor the Grail—one of the Grails, was in this cave.”
The corpse nodded. “You aren’t wrong, you’re drinking from it.” He didn’t nearly spit out the wine this time. “You mean.” The corpse nodded. “Yessir, that is indeed one of the four cups. Specifically, the one Jesus for sure didn’t drink from. I know this because anybody can drink from it and nothing happens. It’s a great party trick if you like being bored at parties.” Claudin looked down at the simple cup, Jesus had once held that cup, touched it, or if not him the apostles. Men had fought wars over less. It was worthless, and yet it completely wasn’t. The oddness of its struck him like a boar- or maybe a wild pig.
“Wanna know how I got the dumb thing? I mean, its an okay story. Not that I get to tell it often.”
“Its not du-“ Claudin took a breath. “Yeah tell me sure.”
This wasn’t going how he imagined it would ne. The corpse nodded.
“My name is Thrynwulf. A long time ago, the Roman Empire invaded my homeland, and as part of their bounty took me as a slave. It was a horrid thing, but I took some comfort in knowing my sister had been spared that fate, as she had escaped into the wilds with my friend Eskelling. They had a lot of children and lived long lives, but they don’t matter to this tale.
The Roman who took me found I was good at cooking, and decided he didn’t want to sell me but keep me for his personal chef. I didn’t know anything about Roman food, and I’m not a fast learner, but when doing something is life or death you throw your life into it. I got quite good at what he wanted out of me, and he decided to take me to the Holy Land where he had been given the boring job of oppressing the Jews. He wasn’t too happy about this—he wanted to fight a big war not run the day-to-day tasks of showing a religious and ethnic group who was boss. In my free time I learned to read, and speak the local languages. It was important for my job as a chef. Not speaking it was essentially also a death sentence and reading helped me get the best ingredients and read recipes. I could even write letters requesting things! It was quite a valuable skill for me to have. I leaned the languages of the Jews, and the Greeks, and the Romans. This made me many friends, and allowed me to move between different groups in Jerusalem easily. It was this way I came across the Grail.
At this time I still worshiped the gods of my homeland, and some of the Roman ones since they were clearly powerful as they’d taken down my people. The Jews confused me though, as they only had one god. It wasn’t even that they just worshiped one but acknowledged the others—just one! This might be hard for you to understand, but it was a radical and confusing concept, not just for me but for the occupying force. We didn’t quite understand how it worked, or why this one God was apparently their go to God for everything. I mean, what if it didn’t know how to deal with some problem? There was no other god to pass the problem on off to! It just seemed sort of silly to us. With the Hebrew people causing such a ruckus, my owner was often too busy to come home and eat, and was often gone for weeks at a time. Roman slaves were allowed to buy their own freedom, something I learned fairly quickly, so I began to look for other people to cook for, for money.
I was tenacious about it-- willing to work for anyone, anytime. Anyways, I got this job cooking a passover meal for some families. I tried to be discrete about it so no one could insinuate anything, like I was collaborating with them on mischief against Rome, but I still managed to get quite a good Kosher meal cooked up in secret and serve it. I'd been efficient, and the food was not only good, but I finished early. That was when the trouble started, all because the cook next door wasn't quite as prepared as me. He had this band of people, you can guess who, celebrating passover, but he hadn't brought good ingredients with him, and he didn't know how to modify the recipe to make it taste like anything but dirt.
So the innkeeper next door, or maybe just the guy that owned the house, its hard to remember to be honest, he came over and was like “Big problem—the guy I’ve got making the flat-bread? Terrible!” So I’m done early, so I nip over there and start making flat-bread worthy of a king, which is lucky because Jesus was about to eat it that night. Not that I knew that, or even knew which particular Messiah claimant he was at that point. They all kind of rolled together after a while. So I do such a good job, and the supper is a big success, but it turns out not too long after-wards that the Messiah guy gets himself killed and the innkeeper gets rid of the cups as a sort of cleansing. I know that Joseph guy, you know, from Aramathea, he got one. I don't really know who got the others but I got this one.. Anyways I did eventually buy my freedom, and now I’m here in this cave and cannot die, so you know, that’s life.”
The knight slowly nodded. Thrynwulf looked like a tree in a dark wood, his bony feet nestling into the dirt. His undeath made him shuddersome despite his casualness, his very breath wrong and against the concept of air. “So uh, am I immortal to now?”
Thrynwulf looked at him highly puzzled, “What? No! Like I said that cup has no magical properties, it’s a…. “less holy grail” so to speak. I’m immortal cause I won a cooking contest against three witches who weren’t particularly keen on making the bet work out like I’d imagined. I’d kind of hoped for a more lively complexion.” He grinned like a skull. Claudin looked away.
“Well uh… Any idea where the other Grails are?” Thrynwulf shrugged, “No idea. I haven’t seen em since Jerusalem, but I’ve heard a lot about them. Nothing you haven’t obviously.”
Claudin wanted to storm out, but he also didn’t want to piss off the immortal guy, so he slowly stood up. “Well then, I guess I should get going.”
“No no no, sit down son. I have something to ask of you.” He sat down on command.
“Good boy. Now then, your knights are going to be looking for the Holy Grail correct? If they find it, I need to drink from it. It’s the only thing that can cure me of this eternal undeath.”
“I can’t just steal it, and if I let you in I’m sure someone would object to a draugr like you in the castle…”
“No one needs to know. The cups look the same. You can take mine, and bring me that one. I’ll give it back after I drink from it—actually in all likelihood I’ll be super dead. How does that sound?”
Claudin bit his lip, it sounded fair…. He nodded.
“Good. Then we can commence. Meet me on the far side of the tallest hill to the east of Camelot by the tree in one month.”
* * * *
Galahad rode hard towards Camelot, the grail in his bag, but the sun was setting, and looked as though it would be dark soon. His horse was clearly tired, so he made the decision to find a place to camp out. Slowing to a trot, he searched the area, and found a stone circle, the kinds the druids made. In the center was a fire, formerly used for rituals, but right now being used by a knight to boil some vegetables in a pot.
“Percival!” The knight looked up, he was older than Galahad remembered him, but the quest for the grail had been a long one. He dismounted, tied up his horse, and pulled off his saddle bag.
“You'll never guess what I have sir Percival!” He just chuckled, “I've got something pretty great myself you know...”
Galahad reached into his bag, and pulled out a simple cup, but one that you could tell just by looking at it held much more importance into it than its clay would indicate. Percival looked at it stunned at bewildered. Galahad had been expecting some awe, but he grin fell when Percival reached into a bag and pulled out an identical cup. “Oh.” Galahad said. He couldn't really think of what else to say. “How can there be two Grails? I find this hard to fathom.” Percival just shrugged, “I'm certain mine is real though-”
“I'm certain mine is real.”
“Well then this is a quandary.” Percival perked up, his ears almost twitching like a dog. “Do you hear that?” Galahad shook is head, he hadn't but God hadn't gifted him with the same ears Percival had. Percival pointed and Galahad looked at the darkening horizon where a horse and rider were galloping towards them. “Who on earth could that be?”
“Its Gawain.” Percival said, as he went back to stirring the pot.
“He'll certainly know what's going on, and if he doesn't I'm certain no one but Merlin will know, either way we can relax about this-- be lackadaisical even.”
“It means... Relaxed, so I guess I was repeating myself.” Galahad nodded as Gawain approached. He looked exhausted, but his form was perfect. His armor was dented, but no where did it look patched, like he had used it perfectly to block blows without ever getting hit too hard by a stray one. His short black hair shifted like the grass in the wind as his horse heaved across the ground. Sweat dripped through his stubble. God, he was beautiful. Galahad knew no better knight. He slowed his horse, and slid off in a seamless motion, patting the horse as he walked towards them. He didn't bother tying it up.
Gawain walked over to the pot and looked into it, and gave a sort of shrug, sitting down in total silence. Galahad looked at Percival, who just kept stirring.
“So Gawain.... How went your quest?” Gawain looked up at Galahad, and screwed his lips off to the left.
“Well, Arthur will be pleased. I got the Holy Grail.”
Galahad and Percival pulled their own Grails out.
“Ah.” Gawain sighed and rubbed his temples, “I was thinking this would all be simple.”
Percival looked up again and pointed at the horizon, yet again, where a new figure was riding towards them in the quickening shadows.
“I wonder who th-”
“Its Claudin.” Percival said before Galahad could finish. Gawain just smirked. Percival served the soup as Claudin rode up.
“Claudin, you'll never guess what's happened.” He dismounted and gave a disgruntled sigh, “You found three Holy Grails that are totally identical?”
Galahad laughed, “Well then, I'm guessing you have one to?” He nodded, and sat by the fire. “I take it you want to know why? Good I have a story to tell you.”
They listened, and when he was done, a long silence prevailed. It was Gawain who spoke first.
“Well... We can't very well let the draugr sip from the cup can we?”
“I don't see why not, wouldn't it cure his undeath?” Galahad added. Gawain gave a gentle nod, but looked displeased. “I don't trust draugr. They don't have the same priorities as the living, they usually want to keep their grave goods close to them at all times. That this Thrynwulf character gave Claudin his Grail.... I don't trust it.”
“Then what should we do?” Gawain just shrugged, “Nothing. It will wait for you, you won't come. Camelot can certainly handle one draugr if it comes to it.”
Claudin nodded, and they went back to their dinner, but things didn't seem right.
The feast was spectacular when they returned. Word had somehow spread about their arrival, and children threw dried flower petals from the roofs and parapets as they rode into town, Grails aloft. Arthur, the priests, and Merlin all inspected the cups and found them genuine, and each of them drank a draft from them. Time passed, the Grails were safe. A month went by and Camelot never lost its glow of joy.
* * * * *
Thrynwulf shoved the doors open, his arms seeming to push out farther than any arm should from his body. His teeth shone in the moonlight, the hollow of his eye socket seeming to sink in deeper to a violet void in a phantasmagorical action of deep secrets. He stepped into the hall, swaying slightly, the hood of his cloak casting just enough shadow to frame him demonic. He raised a skeletal hand, thinly cloaked in skin and sinew.
“Sir Claudin, where is my draft?”
Camelot rose as one to face the draugr, its height growing by at least a foot, its arms stretching so long they could hit the ground, its jaw unhinging and growing wide enough to bite the head off a horse, its head leading over its body, its legs seeming to not only stretch like its arms, but grew thick like tree trunks.
“You think you can deny me my death? I shall be a calamity on you-” it smashed the food and drink from a table with its long arms sending people scattering, “you feast in decadence while I live! I shall have my draft!”
Arthur rose, and being unarmed at dinner, grabbed the ax from behind him on the wall, just as he had during the “Green Knight” incident. “You insidious creature, what reason do you have for breaking into my hall at dinner? You have no right!”
It screeched like a dying owl, “I HAVE EVERY RIGHT! Your knight, Sir Claudin, promised me a drink from your Grails in exchange for the one I had.” Arthur looked at Claudin.
“Sir Claudin, is this true?” Claudin lowered his head.
“It is, my King.” Arthur pursed his lips.
“My King,” Gawain whispered, “You've seen very well what draugrs can do...” Arthur shuddered at the mere thought, when he and Gawain had ventured into that cavern with ten men, and come back alone... “... I am a King of my word, and my knight's honor is my own. I honor the word of Sir Claudin. Come gentle draugr, drink with us.” The creature's form began to turn to normal, and it stepped forward, pulling its hood down, a horrid smile on its face. “Why thank you Arthur Pendragon, son of Uther, King of Albion. I would be most honored.”
Arthur lowered the ax, and sent a page to call for Merlin, who came in with the four Grails on a tray, a bottle of wine, and some sort of glowing slab with a thin wire coming out from it leading into his ears. He seemed to be humming something, and there was a faint melody coming from his ears.
“Merlin meet... Merlin?”
“What? Oh, sorry. I was listening to some Jay-Z.” He said pulling two small buds out of his ears. “I mean, er, I was... Doing magic. Stuff. Magic stuff yeah. Anyways, yeah, I take it you're Thrynwulf?”
The Draugr extended a hand, which Merlin shook, “Good to meet you. I had the priests bless the wine, so it should be all consubstantiated now. Thrynwulf sighed, a deep contented sigh, and picked up the first cup, which he drunk. Nothing happened. He frowned, and drank the next cup. Nothing happened again. He reached for the third, and downed it. Still nothing. With great hesitancy, he reached for the last cup, he picked it up, turned it in the light from the candles, and drank from it slowly and sweetly. Nothing happened. He dropped the cup, his one eye wide, and Merlin caught it expertly.
“This cannot be happening... I should be dead.”
“Yeah, thought that might happen.” Merlin said nonchalantly. “I think you can only die from drinking a draft from a Grail made by the witches who cursed you. Sorry bro.”
“But... No!” His body began contorting, turning spastic and shifting wildly.
“Buuuuuut, hey chill man, look, I know where the witches are. If any of our knights are brave enough to go with you, this should be easy enough to solve. Thrynwulf looked up, “There is still a way I can reach death?” Merlin nodded, “Yeah, just uh, let me pull something up on my.... Magic soothsaying stone or whatever....” He began tapping on the glowing rock. “Ugh, Apple Maps is even worse in ancient history.... Right here we go. They've opened a Haberdashery in Kent. So, if you can go to Kent, you can get cured. “
“Cure a curse at the house of some Haberdashing Kent Witches? That's... Well no more odd than a lot of things we've done.” Gawain sighed. “I'm in. I don't like you, draugr, but I back my friend's promise to you.”
Thrynwulf bowed its head, “I am honored.”
“I'm in to,” Galahad chimed in.
“I can't very well get out of this, I'm in.” Claudin added.
“Yeah.” Percival said.
“Then we have a company-- you shall go to Kent and cure Thrynwulf of his undeath. May God go with all of you.” Arthur said, making a sign of blessing with his hands.
“Yeah, good luck and stuff.” Merlin added.
“Lets not wait then.” Gawain said, wiping his mouth. “We leave at dawn.”
* * * * *
The five riders departed at first light, awakening nearly in unison, donning their riding armor and packing their bags in total silence. They could feel destiny oozing from their actions, could feel that the universe was pushing them where they needed to go, like the hand of god was at the small of their backs, pushing them onward. They ate in silence to, and yawning took to the backs of their mounts with necessity. Thrynwulf was waiting for him, his eyes lidless of sleep, his belly in no need of pleasantries. They rode. Hooves tore up clumps of grass, and kicked up dirt. The sun rose slowly behind then, framing them in its light, as though its rays were the very hands at their backs.
They stopped rarely, for food or to water the horses, and of course to sleep. All were terse affairs, but fate was following, and fate was not so silent. It was on their second day of travel that they found the adventure wouldn't be such a straight shot. The signal for this was a fairly obvious one, as someone came running in front of their horses waving their hands with manic fervor. Halting their band, Gawain rode forward slowly, taking his helmet off. The road blocker was a young woman, a splatter of blood across the left side of her face.
“You have to help, you have to help, you have to help.” She said loudly, but with a monotone that screamed to the extent of her shock. Gawain dismounted, and setting down his helmet approached her slowly. “You're safe now. I am Sir Gawain, and this is Sir Claudin, Sir Percival, and Sir Galahad, as well as our companion Thrynwulf. We're sworn to aid you.”
She fell to her knees weeping as though a dam inside her had finally collapsed and the waters allowed to flow free, clutching Gawain's legs. He lent down and gently held her, whispering to her. The other knights and Thrynwulf dismounted and waited patiently for her to be able to speak.
“What happened to you, miss?”
She took a breath, “My village was slaughtered by a Warlord named Sir Anduril.” Gawain's face twitched with held in anger as she spoke, “Our parish held a relic from the holy land, a cloth with the image of the Christ on it. Anduril heard of it, and decided to take it... We wouldn't give it up, and his men slaughtered us instead. They came through on horses and just... Just started bashing heads in, burning, stabbing, there was so much blood.... Blood.... It....” She began shuddering, and Gawain patiently held her till she was ready to continue, “They... I hid... I played dead after they killed my brothers, I could feel Francis' blood on me as it came out of him, warm and.... And I hid. I waited till they finished, and was the only one left. I... I need your help.”
“And I will gladly give it...”
“I will gladly do everything I can to bring you solace, Cydwyn.”
Gawain looked at his comrades, “I am sorry, but I cannot delay seeking justice for this. You can ride on but-”
“Gawain, we're all with you, and you Cydwyn.” Percival cut in. Thrynwulf's voice, for once sounded reassuring in the depths of its darkness, “I swear to you, girl, I shall not rest either till your justice is found.” They had been drawn here together, and fate had shown its hand.
The town was worse than Cydwyn had made it out. The bodies had been mutilated and violated, and it made Galahad sick off the side of his horse to see it. Anduril's men had gloried in this, like children finger-painting in crimson, stringing up bits of people like ornaments. The Christian Church and Pagan Temple on either end of the village had both been burned, but had first had statues taken out from them and set in the town square, robed in human skin, draped in necklaces of entrails. The statues had been further defiled by making bloody and obscene mockeries using other detached body parts. It was the most horrifying thing any of them had ever seen, except for Gawain. Claduin, Galahad, and Cydwyn began the process of assembling the remains for burial, and cleaning the statues from the church and temple, while Percival and Thrynwulf began the process of digging graves. All of them wept, save for Gawain, whose face grew as immovable as a cliff face. He walked through the village, and took notes. When he finished, he aided the others in their tasks. When the last grave had been covered up, and Galahad and Claudin had finished doing the Christian and Pagan rites over them, Gawain found them some unruined food from one of the empty houses, which they ate solemnly for dinner.
“Thrynwulf,” he said in the silence, “are you serious that you will follow us to the conclusion of this journey?” Thrynwulf looked up, surprised. Cydwyn looked terrified of him.
“You may not like me, Knight of the Round, but while I have the body of a monster, I've the soul of a Christian.”
“That doesn't always mean good.” Claudin noted, “Anduril calls himself a Christian.”
Thrynwulf nodded, “No it does not, but I have lived a long time, and I want nothing more than a world without the things I've seen.” He stretched his arm out, and it elongated slightly, so that his open palm seemed to be under the moon. “The Roman's killed many people I knew, and the life of a slave was a terrible one. I've seen men torture people for fun while I held their wine goblet. I've lived too long, and seen too much. I want to end this life, and move onto the next one as soon as I can, but to leave this world without doing what I could to right the wrongs in this one is wrong to me.”
“You know if you are cut apart you'll live on forever as a specter, unable to leave this world, without a form to inhabit in it. We'll be facing huge dangers.”
“I am prepared for that.”
“Why are you with them?” Cydwen asked. She'd been very quiet, and no one was willing to push her on that.
“Have you seen my kind before?”
“You didn't recognize the sights here, Thrynwulf? The signs of draugr feeding on the living?” Gawain asked. Thrynwulf narrowed its eye.
“I lead a solitary life.”
“I have seen these draugr before. Anduril was a knight who went with Arthur and I to clean a tomb of them out long ago, when we were young men, maybe even younger than Galahad or Claudin here.”
Galahad and Claudin looked at each other, and Gawain looked up at the moon.
“Anduril betrayed us, he had made a deal with the draugr. They would support him as a warlord, and he would let them feed. The men we brought with us were slaughtered, and Arthur and I barely made it out with our heads on our necks. When we returned, they had fled, highly unusual for draugr, but Sir Anduril was a keen leader. We never saw him again, but we've heard rumors of his actions since. He has many draugr under his command, and the most vile and cutthroat of men. They'll move on quickly, so this will be our one chance to get them while their trail from this village can still be tracked. We have no time to find more men, and their numbers will be far more than ours. We'll likely be killed.”
Gawain got up and walked to the statues, now free of organs, but still stained with blood. “Arthur has been a good king, he united all people's of this land without judgment, Christians and Pagans, even the Jews and Moors, all are welcome in his realm. The only draugr I had seen before today were monsters, and I rushed to think of you on their terms Thrynwulf, but if you stand with us, then you are one of us.”
Thrynwulf simply bowed his head, and extended his hands.
“If you are going to your deaths, I will go to mine as well.” Cydwyn said.
“Out of the question-- you have survived this, you deserve the chance to flee to safety and live.” Claudin said.
She shook her head, “You've all gotten to make grand judgments today, for good or ill, and you've been kind to me. But look around you, look at where I used to live. I used to sing at festivals with those bodies you buried. I hugged them, ate with them, danced with them, dreamed of marriage with more than one of them... I can't simply leave you to finish this without me. I can't.”
Claudin began to protest, but Galahad cut him off. “Do you really think she doesn't know what risk this means for her Claudin? We will need every hand we can get in this.” He turned to her, “Have you worn armor before?” She shook her head. “We'll see if we can find you something light that fits in the town armory.”
“I can ride a horse, and hunt with a bow.”
“Good. No sword training I take it?””
“Then we'll stick with a bow. There's no time to give you skill in something you don't have.”
Gawain looked proudly at Galahad, and Galahad felt his heart rise in his chest.
“The draugr will need to rest tonight to absorb their feast, and they likely won't move in the daylight. We'll sleep tonight, and find their hiding place tomorrow when its light. If we can catch them when they're asleep, we may stand a chance. Till then, get some rest.” Gawain got up, already going to get ready for sleep.
Cydwyn straightened her skirts, and looked at Galahad, “Shall we dress me like a boy then in mail and pants?”
“Not like a boy,” Galahad replied, “like a warrior.”
* * * * *
Anduril's men were drunk on wine, his draugr dunk on blood. He sat on his makeshift throne in the cave, watching two of his men wrestle. They weren't holding back, and the violence seemed gratuitous in a way, not that Anduril really cared. Men were easy to replace. They'd sacked a village, leaving no survivors, and he had it on good word that most of Arthur's knights were still on their foolhardy quests for the Holy Grail. Why would it even be in Britain? He still couldn't really wrap his head around that one, but then again he'd never been one for reading. He had nothing to worry about. Why did he feel off then? There something about this that didn't feel right, he couldn't be developing a conscience could he? He laughed at the thought, spewing wine out in a big splatter. The two wrestlers looked over smiling, thinking they'd pleased him, their grins almost invisible through the blood in their teeth and bruises on their faces. No, it couldn't be a conscience. He'd have noticed that. Closing his eyes he pushed himself back to the sacking of the village. He went through the killing in his mind, savoring the replay of every cut and every kill. There was nothing wrong-- he'd executed the killing bloody darn well, no pun intended. In fact he'd-- no wait. He saw himself smashing the side of a man's head with his ax, and cleaving clean through to his shoulder. There was a perfect spray of blood, and the woman behind him was splattered with it.
Then that woman fell to the ground without a wound on her, and quietly, inch by inch, crawled under the bed. He hadn't noticed, he'd been too caught up in the bloodlust.
But so what? He'd left one survivor? That really wasn't much in the long scheme of things. If anything, one survivor might do him good. People would hear about him, and it would sow terror in them. It might be the best thing to happen to him in eons. Anduril leaned back and drank his wine. He needed to stop being silly. There wasn't anything to be worried about at all. Fate couldn't pull on him, fate was nothing to him. He pushed away the hand tugging at him, and drunk till he forgot.
* * * * *
It had been a normal morning for Cydwyn. She'd seen her brothers, and kissed Cy on the cheek so he woke up. She went out and started the chores for that day, mainly involving beginning to tan the hide of a deer she'd shot. She'd seen Eogrer going off to the field's, and waved and smiled, which he did back.
She could remember the way her heart fluttered. She could remember how it felt and how he fell when he was hit with the arrow. She fled into the house, and hid while her brothers finished dying. She hid while the town was killed. She hid while she heard the sick sounds of the desecration of her friend's bodies. She hid. She wondered when she had even taken a breath. She wondered what the point of all those earlier days had been-- why had she grown up at all? Why had she been allowed to know these people for even a minute, let alone her whole life? Had she done something wrong, was she being punished? She couldn't think of any reason she would be. When there was silence, she waited house till she was sure the silence was total, and creeped out, to see the town had become hell. She wandered through, and the dreams she'd had in her life seemed like something a fool would have come up with. How ridiculous, how utterly silly of her. The world had no use for her happiness. She wandered out of the village, and felt all the hope wash out of her. There was no one to help her, she was alone and... there were figures coming towards her. She could tell they weren't the same ones, even from the far distance there was a nobleness about them, an aura of decency she couldn't explain. She felt a long hand reach for her, and she took it.
* * * * *
It was later than they would have liked when they found the cave, they still had light but it wouldn't be too long till the light was done. There were three guards outside the cave, and Gawain set his troupe on a strict plan to take them out quickly.
Thrynwulf approached, lazily, lilting from side to side.
“Hey, stop, who are you?”, a guard said, with a slur under his breath, brandishing his polearm.
“I got separated after the raid. I spent too long feeding, I'm glad I caught you before you left, Anduril wouldn't have been pleased.”
The man squinted, “I don't recognize you?”
“Really, after all this time, all draugr look the same to you? I should cut your throat.”
“No uh, that won't be necessary, come on in....” He moved his weapon aside, and Thrynwulf strode past. In one quick motion he turned, and tore the guard's throat out in total silence, an arrow went through another guard's neck, and Claudin muffled his mouth as Percival slit the final guard's throat.
“Three down,” whispered Gawain, “No going back now.”
“I know.” Cydwyn said. She'd hoped in a way that killing the guard wouldn't make her feel better, but the truth was, it had. The entire cave began to fill her with a monumental sense of dread, as though stepping in they'd move from this world into a dark world she'd already seen.
“Lets do this.”
They grouped up, and slowly moved inside, taking every step cautiously. It felt like a portal to all of them, and after they moved through a spot of total darkness into the main hall, the torch light made them feel like it was somewhere else. Dozens of men were asleep sprawled on the floor while a handful of draugr, the same ones Gawain had met all those years ago, slept neatly on a sort of natural dais at the end of the room where Anduril was seated, cup hanging out of his hand, snoring peacefully. Gawain gestured them in and whispered, “We lucked out. They're asleep. We need to kill them while they're sleeping-- don't give me that look Galahad this may not be honorable, but this is the only chance we have to take out three dozen men with six of us. We can't let these people keep doing this-- they'll do what they did again and again.” Galahad nodded, he remembered the village. There were other villages like that one, and there would be more. He didn't like the idea of killing people in their sleep, but Gawain was right, justice and safety outweighed his code of honor here.
It was messy work. Unheroic work. They moved through silently, systematicly. First: a hand over the mouth; second: a single cut across the throat. They did it perfectly, no one slipped up, or hesitated. By the time they'd reached the dais, it felt more like they'd been killing chickens for a feast then men. “But I was killing men, defenseless men, monstrous men who would kill children and babies without a second thought. Children and babies I'd seen the corpses of. There was no choice here. But I need to keep my hesitation to cross these lines-- I need to doubt if it is the right choice in order to make sure it is,” Galahad thought.
The dais was a new problem though, “So, same thing?” Claudin panted. Gawain shook his head, and whispered back, “You can't kill a draugr silently. We'll take out Anduril, and try to take out as many of the draugr as we can at one time.... we'll have to time it perfectly.”
“Let me kill him.” Cydwyn whispered. Gawain held her gaze.
“Gawain, do you really think...”
“He is yours.”
She went up to him, and held her knife an inch from his throat. She'd slit many throats now today, there was a lot of blood on her. She'd never killed a man before today either. She could do this, she could finish it.
She thought of her brothers, she thought of Eogrer. She thought of what kind of person she had been that morning. So much was lost.
She lowered the knife, Gawain didn't smile, but he looked proud. He turned then, with a solemn deference, to their own draugr.
“Thrynwulf, do it.”
His hand shot out, faster than it should ever have been able to, his arm stretching farther than arms should go, and clutched Anduril's mouth.
“Turn your heads away.” Gawain muttered.
They did. And there was a fleshy tearing sound, and the sound of chewing. When they looked back, Anduril had a hole in his chest where his heart was. Cydwyn gulped. It was done. He was dead. She felt like there should be some resolution, some feeling inside her that things were resolved, but it didn't come. Still silently, they each went to a draugr, and on Percival's count beheaded them in unison. The draugr each lit up, glowing gray mist spilling from their bodies, blue light from their eyes. They screamed, an infernal inhuman screech that made all but Thrynwulf stagger back. The rest of the draugr rose. Percival lunged in first, drawing his sword across a draugr as it tried to rake him with long claws that suddenly grew from its fingers. Galahad found himself in a tangle of extending limbs that he kept cutting away like weeds, Claudin at his back, each fighting to make hits on their bodies or head through the maelstrom. Gawain smashed a draugr's head straight into the wall, shattering it with sheer force before turning to stab one under its jaw. Thrynwulf fought a pair, all three of them wrangling with long thickening limbs, bashing and fighting and gnashing, all while Cydwyn fired arrows into the fray. It was over fairly quickly, the draugr bursting into light and smoke before their soul-emptied corpses dropped once again to the floor.
“Well, that's done.” Gawain panted, leaning on his sword like a cane. Galahad sat down on the dais, and looked out at the bloody room.
“I feel like we had to do this, I don't know why, but it seems like we had to.”
“If we hadn't, a lot more people would die.” Galahad nodded.
“Its more than that. I think all of this has been set out in a way, like a chess board we're playing though.”
“You mean like someone else is masterminding this?” Claudin asked.
“No, not at all, just... This is something bigger than us. Bigger than what any one of us might want, or need, I suppose.”
Percival went over to Anduril's corpse, and searched it, pulling out a folded piece of cloth.
“Is this the relic, Cydwyn?” She nodded, and he carefully unfolded it. There was a stain on it, that vaguely but not entirely looked like a face. He sighed, his eyes filling with disappointment.
“What is it?” Cydwyn asked, her voice quivering.
“No, its clearly something you can't just say its nothing I saw how you looked at it.”
“Are you sure you want to know?”
“Its not a real relic. This cloth is basically new, and I've learned enough from Merlin to know this kind of cloth wasn't made at the time of Christ.... It just has a stain that makes it look like a face. Merlin called that 'pareidolia', when you see a face on something that isn't there...”
Cydwyn cocked her head to the side, she staggered a little, “So they sacked our town to.... To get nothing? They killed everyone for nothing?” Percival nodded with a deep slowness.
“I need to come with you.” They all turned towards Cydwyn.
“I won't slow you down or anything. But I have no where else to go. Nothing makes sense to me anymore. I don't know why anything is happening. Please, just don’t leave me alone.”
“I don't really think that's a good idea...” Claudin began, but Gawain rolled his eyes with such force he just sort of stopped.
“I'd love to have you along” Galahad noted.
“You're a fit bowman, as it turns out, sure.” Gawain said. Percival just grinned.
“Then we are a band of six, I am glad to have you as well.” Thrynwulf added.
“So, what exactly were you doing before you found me anyways?”
* * * * *
The six riders kept on their course, till something else came in their way. As they crested a hill they were met with a brilliant display of lights and bonfires. People danced around them, throwing their heads this way and that, stomping their feet. “There isn't a festival today, unless I lost track of the days?” Claudin muttered, starting to try to work it through on his fingers.
“No, there isn't, not in any faith I know of.” Gawain said.
“That only leaves one thing.” Percival said quietly. They all turned.
The sound of drumming increased from below. The lights shimmered in a way lights shouldn't, and they slowly began to trot towards it.
“We shouldn't go do down there.” Thrynwulf said.
“We aren't going down there.” Cydwyn said, as she went down there.
“Are you under a spell?” The draugr queried.
The five living riders began their descent towards the faerie festival, their eyes glassy. Thrynwulf cursed loudly and repeatedly. No one noticed. He galloped away, and tied his horse up on a tree. If he was to get them out of there, he'd need to be on his feet, and silent. He crept in towards the tents and bonfires, and found the horses of his companions tied to trees that glowed white like bones with light.
It suddenly struck him that this meant the grails were in their saddle bags. He could take them, leave. Get rid of these weak breathing people and get things done with. He hesitated, his bones stretching on reflex as his hand moved towards the saddle bag. He stopped, and pulled his arm back. No, no he wouldn't abandon them. He sighed an empty breath, and felt a surge as he realized he had passed a test. His eye turned far in its socket, beyond how far a living eye could turn, and looked towards the festival. He could already see the five of them being led into separate tents-- they'd change them into faerie clothes and get them to drink their wine and eat their food. If they stayed with them through the night, they'd be trapped. Ugh, mortals.
He took off his cloak, and stripped down to the most flexible clothing he had. He bared his feet, and let his dead toes sink into the grass. He took a flask of wine from one of their bags, and making the smallest cut he could, put a drop of his own blood into it. That should be enough. Other than the flask he took only a knife. Lying on his belly, he began to crawl, his limbs bending out of place till he looked like a spider. The Faeries had them dancing around the bonfires by the time he got there, they were dressed in bone-white robes, with teeth for buttons and fasteners. He watched for a moment as they danced in spirals together, the faeries' movements looking abnormal, like they were skipping steps in moving their limbs between one place and the next.
Thrynwulf would usually have went for Gawain first, the wisest and bravest, but that wouldn't work here. He went for Galahad. The young knight was dancing around a bonfire, drinking wine from a cup that looked like it was both grown from flowers and carved from bone. The faerie next to him smiled sweetly as they danced. This would be tricky. Thrynwulf stretched his arm out through the grass, snaking it towards them, there was a small “snap” every time his arm turned around a rock or branch, but no one minded it. Finally, his hand reached the bonfire. He took a breath, even though he didn't need it, and reached into the fire, grabbing a branch. His arm shot back like a rubber band-- and the branch flew out between the dancers, the faeries leaping away, covering their faces from the sparks. Thrynwulf grabbed Galahad's leg, and pulled him back with all the quickness he could. His arm was sore, and his hand burnt, but he couldn't let that stop him now. He rolled on top of Galahad, and opened the wine flask in his mouth, even as Galahad kept up an unearthly laughter. As the wine and blood touched his lips, his eyes went darker, and the laughter stopped.
“I'm going to die someday.” He whimpered.
“Yes, and I'm sorry about that, but its the only way to get you back quickly. Now if you wouldn't mind, your friends are all in danger.”
Galahad sat up, “They're ensnaring us.”
“Yes, and you need to get some of this wine into all of their cups. I'll get your escape ready.” Galahad nodded, grabbed the flask, put on his best fake smile, and walked back to the bonfire. “Galahad, where did you go?” the Fae asked. “Nowhere, I just got scared.”
“I thought you were a brave knight!”
“Well nobody's perfect.”
Thrynwulf crawled away, looking back to see Galahad slapping Claudin on the back as he dripped some of the flask into his cup. The draugr crept into the tents, and took their weapons and armor, putting them into a pile behind one of the tents, and making a circle around it in the dirt. Finally, and casually, he did the same trick with his arm to grab a chunk of flaming wood, and chucked it through the air towards the biggest Faerie tent. The Fae kept dancing for longer than you would think till they realized the tent was burning, and they ran screaming towards it, their faces becoming less and less human as they did so. Galahad had everyone gathered together, most of them looking fairly dazed, and had them running out of the place towards their horses. Thrynwulf got up, and walked into the middle of the camp, the faeries turning to face him. “You need to leave this place.” The Faeries hissed at him.
“This isn't your place draugr.”
“You belong in the otherworld, go back there.”
“You belong with the dead.”
“And I'm trying to join them, now leave.”
“Tell us why we should?”
“Your wine has been poisoned with my blood, and death. If you don't go back before dawn, you'll be mortal.” Their eyes widened in unison, which Thrynwulf had never seen before. It was like watching the sky crack open like an egg.
They screeched, and squawked, and fled through the night and past our world. Thrynwulf sighed, this journey couldn't just be simple, it had to be a quest. He looked up at the moon again, and reached his hand towards it once again, yes, of course it was a quest. One couldn't escape that.
* * * * *
The bridge. In quests, one often reaches one, and it often has a guardian. The bridge our heroes found was no different, and there in front of it was a guardian, puffing on a clay pipe. He had a black cloth wrapped around his eyes, and a thick hooded cloak wrapped around him. In his hand was a rope that seemed to feed under the bridge somehow. They had ridden without stopping since they fled the Faerie camp, and the sun and the dew were fresh upon the ground. Claudin's head was filled with a dull ache, partially from the Faerie wine, partially from the lack of sleep. The cool morning air was ready to wake him, and he breathed it in deep as he slapped his cheek a bit to bring a sting of consciousness to his affairs. Cydwyn was yawning on the horse next to him, and Percival was muttering something about breakfast. Thyrnwulf probably didn't need to sleep and had quietly and gently kept one or two of them from falling out of the saddle as they dozed in and out. Galahad swayed slightly in his tiredness, and Gawain was already dismounting to walk towards the bridge's guardian.
“Are you the keeper of this bridge?”
The man nodded.
“Will you allow us to pass?”
“Its good that you ask.” The man said gruffly, “Not everyone does.”
“Does that mean we may pass?” The man shook his head.
“No, not that simple. I have a question for all of you, however many there are. My hearing isn't as good as people expect it to be.”
“There are six of us.” Percival coughed out.
“Six. Well then. One at a time, what is your unobtainium?”
Gawain looked puzzled, “Our.... Our what?” He looked at the rest of the group, most of them just shrugged, Cydwyn yawned again.
“Unobtainium- what is the thing you need to solve your problem? Simple enough. Tell me, and after you tell me, each of you can pass.”
“I can do this easily.” Thrynwulf rode forward slowly, “I seek a drought from the three witches beyond this bridge.”
“What? Helga, Hunna, and Hamma?”
Thrynwulf sighed, “Yes, those three.”
The old man leaned his head down, and bit his pipe. “Well, alright then, but you might be disappointed.”
“I can't really be more disappointed with them than I already am.”
“Fair enough.” He shrugged. “Go forth.” Thrynwulf rode across the bridge. He waited on the other side, skeletal, his eye shining.
“Who is next?
Gawain, who was still standing in front of him, coughed. “Uh, I'll go.”
“What is your unobtainium?”
“To seek the Holy Gra- Sorry that's not it anymore, I mean, we have it, four of it. Um, I... peace in the realm would be nice.”
The old man shrugged, “Yeah fair enough. Next.”
“I'm Galahad, Knight of the Round Table.” He said, his horse clomping up.
“Ah, Lancelot's boy. I know of you. And your unobtainium?”
“I wish to be holy and pure in a way my father never could be.”
The old man stroked his beard, “A noble goal, and a hard one to reach. I certainly wish you luck. Cross!” He did so, and took his place on the other side.”
“And what of you, next person?”
“I'm Percival. Knight, and such.” He said as he rode up, “I just want to get done with this quest and go home. I'm tired, and I've had enough of trail food. Maybe my unobtanium is a good meal. Honestly I'm too sleepy to think about it much.”
The old man chuckled, “I'm not going to be picky about this, go ahead and go on over. Fair enough my boy, fair enough.”
Claudin rode up next, “I'll just cut to the chase-- I want people to remember me for me and not for the bad things my father did. Lump me in with Galahad, but its the truth.”
“Quick and easy, lemon peasy!”
“Oh just cross.” He did so.
“That leaves just one of you doesn't it? Who is it?”
“My name is Cydwyn.”
“A lady! Goodness.” He pulled down his hood and gave a small bow in slightly the wrong direction. “No, not a lady. Just a woman. I'm just Cydwyn, nobody special.”
“You're traveling with four knights and a man cursed with immortality, that's hardly no one who travels like that!” He shook his pipe at her as he talked.
“Oh, I'm sure they wouldn't mind leaving me behind, I can't even really answer your question. You said unobtainium is something you need to complete something, or achieve something, or maybe make you or something whole.... Something like that.”
“Yes, something like that.”
“I have no idea what would make me whole, or what I need. I have very little, maybe nothing.”
“Well that is a problem. You see this rope here in my hand? Do you know what this does? One tug and it pulls a peg out holding that bridge to the cliff face. The bridge is strong, it could hold a whole cavalcade of horses and riders-- but this one peg keeps it all in place. If I don't want someone to cross, I just pull the peg out. I've done it before. Sent people hurtling to their deaths down below-- I could do that to you to. So why should I let you cross when you have nothing?”
Cydwyn couldn't think of a reason. There really wasn't one, she had nothing to give this blind man, nothing to barter or offer....
“Maybe what I need is on the other side of that bridge?”
“And if it isn't?”
“Well I can't do much harm over there if I'm looking for nothing now can I?” The old man smiled.
“Good girl. I've got a gift for you, its not unobtanium, its Aubrillium, or as the layman would call it, moondust.” He pulled a bag out of his cloak and held it out in front of him. She rode up, and reached down from her saddle to grab it.
“You mean, this is really from the moon? The one in the sky?”
“No other-- don't ask how I got it, long story, but its genuine I can tell you that. And if I know where you're going, it might very well be what you need. Now go, cross the bridge, finish the quest. I don't have all day.” She thanked him, and bolted across the bridge, nervous he'd change his mind. But he just kept smoking the clay pipe.
“What did you tell him?”, asked Galahad.
“Nothing, I mean, really I told him I didn't have anything.”
“Oh I guess the test was easier than it looked.”
“He was looking for honesty.” Gawain cut in, “You all said exactly the right thing. If you'd lied, you'd be dead.” Cydwyn's eyes went wide, and then she smiled. She was alive, yes, she was alive, and the quest was almost over.
* * * *
The sign outside the witch's house said “Helga, Hunna, and Hamma's Tessa's all purpose Potions and Haberdashery” with the name Hamma crossed out, and the name Tessa written in sloppily under it. The six of them rode up to the sign, stopping their horses as they took it in. The house was old, the lawn overgrown, and vines creeping up the sides. It had the look of a place that was lived in, but was too big for the occupants to care for. They all dismounted, and tied their horses up, walking up to the door of the house where they all stood for a moment of uncertainty before Galahad and Cydwyn stepped forward in accidental unison, and giving each other a smirking glance, knocked at the same time.
The girl who opened the door was probably seventeen, maybe younger as she had the lean look of someone who'd spent most of her life living off scraps. Her white smock was covered in stains of herbal droughts, and opening the door itself gave a big waft of aromatic plants. In her arms was a cat, which was looking around as though trying to find a way to get free.
“Oh, hello, uh, I wasn't expecting any customers today. Is it an emergency or something?”
They all looked at Thrynwulf, “Er, no not an emergency, however it is something I'd like to avoid putting off any longer. Where are the three witches?”
The girl fumbled with the cat as it squirmed in her arms. She begin to tickle it, and say some coochie-coo words at it, and it eventually stopped wriggling. “Sorry about the cat-- well, I'm one of the witches, Tessa.”
“Hamma's name was crossed out; did she leave to start her own coven?” Thrynwulf conjectured.
“No.... No I think you should come in.” She sighed, and gestured towards a messy table lined with benches. The six sat down, and she began to give them cups of an herbal tea she was brewing in a pot (herbs lined the room, herbs were drying on racks, herbs were in cups and basins and bottles; they grew in pots on the windowsills and hung from the ceilings. It was impossible to escape them here), and there were even plenty sitting in hats that lined the room in near equal frequency. Hats of every color and shape. There was barely any free space. “I'm sorry to tell you sir, but Hamma died last year. She slipped and fell, hit her head on the back of a chair and broke her crown. There was nothing anyone could do.” Thrynwulf looked displeased at this.
Claudin leaned in to whisper to him, “Shouldn't you be happy about that? I thought you didn't like them?” Thrynwulf ignored him.
“And you're the new maiden in the Trifecta?”
“Yessir- unfortunately I haven't been able to learn much of their art.” Thrynwulf set his steaming cup down.
“The Mother and Crone,” she looked at a puzzled Cydwyn, “Helga and Hunna, they're dying. Helga of old age, Hunna of something she picked up from eating spoiled food. I'm running most of the business these days, but I don't even know what most of the herbs here do. I'm much better at making hats, I've got plenty of ideas on that count... But you don't need a witch to make your hat.”
Everyone shook their heads, and Thrynwulf stood. “I need to see your Mother and Crone immediately. If what you say is true, I can wait no longer.” He pulled his hood down, and Tessa gasped and dropped the cat, which looked rather happy to finally be dropped and go about its business.
“Why sir- you're....”
“Dead. Yes. And I'm tired of not meeting the fullness of that moniker. Now if you would?” Tessa nodded, and took a few steps backward till she could grab a blanket that had been draped over a doorway, pulling it back. Thrynwulf stepped through, to where two very old women were lying in parallel beds, a pot boiling with herbs between them. One was holding a half sewn cap, both were asleep, their chests moving in an uneven and sickly fashion. He went over to one of the beds, and grasped the woman's hand, gently stroking it. Slowly, the lids of her eyes peeled back, and her hand grasped Thynwulf's weakly. “Thrynwulf? I never thought I'd see you again.”
“Hello Hunna.” He said peacefully.
“I wanted to tell you I'm sorry, you know, I really did. I was so rash back then, so rash and young. Did you keep track of Sven?”
He smiled, “Of course I did, and Lia. I lost track of their descendants after a few hundred years.”
“Then I'm glad you could see our children live happy lives. At least that was something.”
Claudin turned to Galahad, “He told me they cursed him for winning a cooking competition!” he whispered.
“Well there is clearly more to it than you thought.” He said back out of the corner of his mouth.
“I wanted you to know you are forgiven Hunna.”
“As are you. You may have embarrassed me and my sisters in front of the King and his court by trouncing us in that cooking competition ( “Oh, okay.” Claudin said.) but turning you into an undead monstrosity was maybe an over reaction, especially since I was bearing your second child.”
“Just a bit, yes, its too late to change all that, but you can finally give me sleep.”
She cackled, “No no no, Thrynwulf you've forgotten. I tried, I tried so hard you remember?”
“I know. But these nice knights here have all four Holy Grails, including my less-Holy one.” She sat up, barely.
“Is this true?” The knights pulled out the Grails, holding them up in the faint light.
“Good. Good... Though its still not enough. I need moon-dust, and that is nearly impossible to find.
“Aubrillium!” Cydwyn declared, and pulled out the small bag.
“Where did you get that?” Galahad asked.
“From the bridge guardian.”
“Well that's convenient.” Gawain added, “Everything falls into place.”
“Fate. The moon has come to its full.” Thrynwulf held out his hand, and Cydwyn handed him the bag.
“Yes, yes we can start let me...” She tried to get up, but as the sweat rolled down her cheek, it became clear she could not. “Mother Hunna don't strain yourself!” Tessa ran in, and maneuvered her back down.
“I'm don't know much, but I can follow instructions. We can make this potion.”
“I'll help.” Cydwyn added.
“And I to.” Claudin stepped forward, and the other three knights did the same.
“Good... Good. You, young boy go get the worm meal. Its in a jar labeled worm meal. Other young boy, go get the monkshood, its drying on the west wall on the left side of the blue table. Gruff man who could kill a bear, go start grinding horse bone in the main hall. Quiet man, go find some blue bells out back. You know what those are? Good. Young girl, go fetch a pail of water. Tessa, get some bread and wine...” They went about their tasks, and got new ones and new ones. By the time they'd finished it was night, and they were all very tired. Tessa was stirring a pot of brewing potion.
“What color is it?”
“A soupy gray.”
“Add more toadstool.”
“Its black! It turned black as night!” Hunna cackled again, which turned into coughing, “Good, good, it looks like were ready. Tessa, wake Helga up.” Tessa stumbled over to Helga, nearly tripping on the cat, and shook her gently. She felt her head. It was cold. Tessa's hands began shaking, “Mother Hunna.... Crone Helga is dead...” Hunna sighed. “I doubt I'll make it through this night myself. You can bury her later, we need to finish this while I'm still breathing. Come on girl, quick! Don't dilly-dally!” Tessa shot up and got the bread and wine. Into thee of the four cups she poured wine, and into the last the black mixture.
“Come then friends, Christian and Pagan, would you share this meal with me?” Thrynwulf organized them into a circle, and sitting at its apex, began to speak.
“Now, this is an old story, and maybe the most important one. I'm doing this from memory, so my apologies if its slightly off. Let us share together this Lord's supper. Now... How did Luke begin it? Oh yes, 'Then came the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover.”
“Where do you want us to prepare for it?” they asked.'”
He stopped for a moment, “And here I came into the story, funny how that works, just one night changes things forever. Sorry, I'll get on with it. 'He replied,“As you enter the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you.' You know, I met him to, I can't remember his name, I'm too old, sorry, I digress, 'Follow him to the house that he enters, and say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ He will show you a large room upstairs, all furnished. Make preparations there.”
They left and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover.
When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”
After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”' As he told the story, the three cups went around, and they drunk the wine from each of them. Thrynwulf reserved the last cup, muttering, “Some fruit of the vine.” He continued,
“'And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying,“This is my body broken for you; do this in remembrance of me.”' He took the bread, and broke it, and they passed it around, each of them sharing it together.
“'In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying,“This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is shed for you.”' And this is the promise I've waited for, of a real eternal life....” Thrynwulf held the final Grail up, and looked at his friends.
“I owe you all, and I am sorry I cannot repay you. I am joyous to die, finally to end this long life, so to meet my God, to rot to dust and free my suffering spirit.”
Hunna reached out weakly, and he grasped her hand.
“Now then, the fruit of vine. Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven....” Thyrnwulf lifted the cup up, and a panel on the roof blew loose letting the moonlight shine through onto the cup and its drinker. He chugged it down, and the black liquid seemed to flow through him instantly. He dropped the cup (which Cydwyn caught in a panic) and began to glow, his skin shining like Luna in the sky, his empty eye socket full of light, and then he began falling to dust, Hunna smiling faintly at him.
“What can you see?” Galahad asked, his eyes shining back the glow.
“You won't be disappointed.” Thrynwulf replied, and fell to ashes and dust.
* * * * *
Hunna was dead too when they checked, and they began the process of burying them. By the time they'd finished, the remainder were exhausted. Digging graves, and saying blessings had taken a long time. But they'd felt they shouldn't wait for some reason. Fate, maybe. Or something like it. They passed out collectively, and slept a long time there, spending the next two weeks resting and fixing the shoddy house up. “I'm very grateful for all your help,” Tessa began, “But I cannot run this whole place by myself, I don't know what I'm going to do now.”
“We cannot stay to help you.” Gawain said, “We have many people to protect throughout the Kingdom.”
“Oh I know...”
“I can stay though.” Cydwyn said, taking Tessa's hand. “I have no home, nowhere to be. I'm no witch, but I'm sure I can learn to make hats and plant herbs.”
Galahad smiled and put a hand on each of them, “You'll do well, and it has been an honor to know both of you.”
Cydwyn smiled, “You saved my life, you brought me justice. I don't think a warrior life is for me though.” Gawain laughed, “Well if bandits come by, you'll sure give them a surprise. Keep the weapons and armor, maybe you'll find them useful.” Cydwen grinned, and hugged each of them in turn.
* * * * *
When the knights rode off, carrying the Grails back to Camelot, they felt like they had done something good, but nothing that they expected. Claudin looked at the Grail he'd found as he'd rode. It was the cup Jesus hadn't drunk from, it was by default less-Holy, less special. Still, he smiled. It had brought Thrynwulf far closer to his God than he'd thought he ever would be. They rode and rode, till the moon once again came up over the horizon.
Annie Zhu and I did an interview with Barebones Entertainment about our work creating the illustrated sci-fi tale 10,000 Dawns together! You can learn for the first time how we got together on this project, where the ideas came from, and how on Earth we find time for it all! Its a fantastic read so go check it out :)!
You can read the interview here:
We're bringing back our beloved 10,000 Dawns Bonus Story Contest! Is there something in the universe of 10,000 Dawns you want to learn more about? A character we haven't explored you want to see more of? Now is your chance to make that a reality! Find out more at the link below.
Art by Annie Zhu, Story by James Wylder
All chapters are now available as a podcast from the Southgate Media Group!
You can subscribe to the podcast version on iTunes and your RSS feed easily from libsyn:
If you're new to 10kd, you can read the story from the start for free below:
You can download the latest chapter below in PDF or epub formats:
Chapter 23: Jump.
WeN-D came down in front of them, boarding ramp extended. It didn’t take long to get all three of them aboard the VanWinkle, even with Graelyn’s ankle, and Heinrich was pleased to see the two communist dogs were on board as well (“I took the liberty of luring them through the airlocks with a ration pack, I hope you don’t mind.” “Not at all WeN-D!”) the ship took off, and in the distance the orb rose off the surface of the moon, a huge lump on its side wrapped in its tendrils.
Graelyn looked out at Arch, as he floated up into the sky, and towards a new blue glow in the sky. “It opened another tear.” June cursed as she slid into a seat in the cabin. “This isn’t good, its going to get away, with a whole bunch of data on us,” she then uttered a long string of curse words.
“We’ve got to follow it.”
“We can’t go through the tear! We’ve got no idea how its traveled through, and its only a little bigger than a person, this is a pretty large ship.” That was true. There wasn’t really any way she could logically argue against that.
“We should still try to get all the data we can, do a fly by as close as you can to when it goes through the portal.”
“Whatever, we’re inventing this jargon essentially.”
“WeN-D can we chart a path to fly by its exit safely?”
“Absolutely!” She said chipperly.
Heinrich and June stripped off their gloves and helmets, but Graelyn kept hers on. They didn’t comment on it, she stared out the view pane absently, deep in thought, her spacesuit looking like a huge anachronism in the spaceship that had been an antique when it was sewn together by machine. The ship got closer to the light, and Graelyn slipped out of the cabin. As it pulled by, she opened up the airlock. “Graelyn what are you doing?”
“Seal the airlock don’t let her do what she’s thinking of!”
Graelyn pressed the emergency released button, flipped open the panel that emerged, and pulled the lever. “Graelyn do not do this!” Graelyn had only been able to count on herself, but arch has done what he had knowing full well he could die. Graelyn was about to inhale when the airlock door blew open, and she shot out with far more force than she’d been prepared for. The force of the air impacted her belly and she threw up into her helmet as she spun wildly, her arms flailing helplessly in the blackness of space. Then she was in a mess of blue and white, and then there was nothing.
She woke up. Her face was in a smelly mess of her own puke, but she hadn’t suffocated. She couldn’t have—the suit could put oxygen straight into her bloodstream even if she was choking, that’s right. Instinctively she reached for the release catch on the neck of the suit—but realized that might not be a good idea. Shifting so that she could see her surroundings without getting vomit over even more of her, she saw she was in a grassy field. Wind blew gently through the blades, and she could see the field rolled down into a small grove of trees. She undid the helmet, and pulled it off, letting the sick slop out. She breathed in deeply, and rubbed her face into the grass- real grass not anything artificial. Black earth rubbed up against her nose. She spread her arms out and tried to sink into the soil, but without much luck.
“Excuse me, are you a spacewoman?” Graelyn’s eyes shot up, and she pushed her aching body up from the soil. In front of her was a girl with short red hair, wearing glasses slightly too big for her head she’d slowly grow into. The knees on her dress were dirty, and she could probably do with blowing her nose, but the really apparent thing about her was the bloody scalpel in her left hand. Grae stared at it, the slightly dry blood dull against the sunlight.
“Miss?” Grae looked back at the girl.
“What’s your name?”
“Graelie.” She said pleasantly, as though she wasn’t holding a bloody scalpel.
“That’s funny.” Said Graelyn. She wasn’t stupid, the hair color threw her off, but she knew. She looked back up at herself.
“And have you been dissecting roadkill again today?”
“How did you know that?”
“Like you guessed, I’m from space. You have to be smart to be in space.” The girl nodded. Graelyn remembered this conversation. She remembered the woman in the spacesuit, she’d thought she’d made it up at this point in her life, one of those playtimes as a child that just feels real though its make believe. But here she was. Strangely, or maybe with the utmost obligation, she knew what she had to say next.
“Would you mind if I came and looked?” Graelie looked at her, and bit her lip, then seemed to make a decision and nod, She reached down to Graelyn, and pulled to “help” Graelyn up, though it was really more for show, as Graelyn still actually had to do all the work, and her body still felt like it had been hit by a missile of pressure. In her head she struggled to work out why she had been hit by the pressure like that—it must have been something to do with the tear changing the space around it, she knew the holes led to different times and places, sometimes different dimensions. Maybe laws from one reality seeped over into this one? Or the two sets of laws clashed? It was all hypothetical. Whatever happened, she was woozy, and her mouth still tasted like vomit. Graelie led her to a dead deer, its eyes were already getting eaten away and it smelled, but that hadn’t stopped the girl from already having made a few incisions. The flesh had been carefully cut away, and the ribcage opened. A few organs had been nearly removed and placed on individual piles of leaves. Graelyn was impressed with herself, but was also struck for the first time with how unnatural this would seem to anyone else. She had been such a lonely child. Unable to keep friends for very long, and spending most of her time by herself. That she spent her time slicing up animals in the woods could only have stuck people as creepy—as a sign she was a danger to the other kids. She didn’t like to think of herself that way, she didn’t like to imagine that there was something wrong with her, but as tiny Graelie began to remove the deer’s lungs, she knew that maybe the whispers she heard about herself were right. There was something wrong with her. Her parents should have sent her away somewhere else. Somewhere far away where she’d do no harm to anyone. What if she was capable of what they thought she was? What if she was broken?
Graelie turned to her, and she didn’t realize she had shed a tear.
“Listen to me Graelie, no matter what anyone says to you, you’re the one in control of your life. People are going to tell you things. They’re going to say that you’re…” She looked away from herself, from the scalpel still dripping deer blood. “That you’re a monster. But they don’t understand you. They don’t know that you’re just…. Different. You’ll want to be what they say you are. You’ll want to… Cross any line to get what you want. But I believe in you. And I…. Look I don’t say this, I never say this, but I love you. You’re the only person I do love. Maybe the only one I can. I don’t want to believe that, but it might be true. Don’t give up on yourself. You’re the only one who can manage that. You…” She trailed off. In the distance, she saw a whiteish metal orb perched perfectly on a hill. “I have to go. Don’t forget what I said.” She stumbled up.
And as I fell I thought to myself, “Who am I going to be when I hit the ground?” Will I be a corpse? A victim? A cripple? Will I get up and rage against everything that threw me off of this?
Then I realized, whoever I chose to be, I will be myself.
I will still be Graelyn. Whoever she is.
And I chose to be someone I wouldn’t want to fall again.
She ran towards the orb. Her legs ached, her belly burned, her lungs felt like they were being cut out of her body. She heard a voice yell “Arch! Arch!” as she ran and she barely realized it was coming out of her own mouth. The orb shook, and she sprinted harder at it. A blue swirl began to form around it, and she cursed and screamed as it disappeared into it as her legs gave out beneath her, the ripples of the tear bludgeoning her exposed face. “Arch…” She muttered. She crawled, grabbing the grass and the dirt, ripping up the gentle earth she’d savored, and pulled herself into the tear.
And I chose to be someone I wouldn’t want to fall again.
Will Graelyn save Arch? Where are they off to next? Come back next week to find out!
First off, did you see the exciting news yesterday? We're bringing back our beloved 10,000 Dawns Bonus Story Contest! Is there something in the universe of 10,000 Dawns you want to learn more about? A character we haven't explored you want to see more of? Now is your chance to make that a reality! Find out more at the link below.
Art by Annie Zhu, Story by James Wylder
All chapters are now available as a podcast from the Southgate Media Group!
You can subscribe to the podcast version on iTunes and your RSS feed easily from libsyn:
If you're new to 10kd, you can read the story from the start for free below:
You can download the latest chapter below in PDF or epub formats:
Chapter 22: The Pavements the Limit
“Graelyn Scythes, what do you call this?” She couldn’t look her mother in the eye. “I didn’t have my eggs frozen so I could have a child who got a B-. Your siblings all did so much better than you when they were your age. What do you have to say for yourself?”
“It was boring” she wanted to say. She wanted to say that she had no interest in the book, and that she really couldn’t have cared less if Ivana had managed to win the great Horse Race that the Czar was throwing. The book didn’t tell her anything about the horse—it was supposedly so important, but they didn’t tell her anything she was wondering about it. What did it eat? What was it genetically predisposed to? Presumably it had been bred for racing, or at the very least was displaying desirable traits for horse races beyond her jockey’s spunky resolve to win the race. But none of it was in the book. Graelyn’s mind had drifted off reading it, and she’d found herself reading about horse biology rather than reading the book itself. Still, she finished it. It was just so hard to keep it in her brain. But that wasn’t what she said.
“I’ll try better mom.”
“You’d better, I don’t tolerate worthless people in this house. You’re either someone, or you’re nothing in this world and I’m not going to support you if you’re going to be a parasite on my back.”
She curled up alone in her room that night like she always did, setting her glasses on the table beside her bed. She wished at that moment that she could be in another family, like the kind she heard about at school from her friends. She didn’t even have a stuffed animal anymore, she’d had a Giraffe she’d named Attenborough, but her Mom had said she was too old for it now. She was too old for everything maybe. Sitting up, she slid her skinny legs off the bed, and walked over to the window, which she popped open with a snap. It was a cold night in Moscow, and the air chilled her almost instantly, Goosebumps springing up on her arms and legs like hives. She didn’t flinch, and slid her legs out the window. She was eight years old, and she was already sick of this, sick of people, sick of her parents. Her head was throbbing with expectations, and she wondered if it would be worth it if she kept going. She’d seen someone jump out of a tall building before, her father had tried to shield her eyes as the man cracked on the pavement, but she saw through his fingers. The way he burst open was fascinating, she’d seen drawings of the insides of people, but never really seen the insides. It hadn’t really occurred to her that that much of a person’s mass was vital fluids before, and she felt silly for not comprehending that fact before that moment. Graelyn was high enough she would burst as well—the window in her room wasn’t even supposed to open the way she was doing it, one of the benefits of studying too much was she could already recode the simple drivers in the window machinery. Not child safe anymore. The wind was picking up, and she felt herself batted about by it, ready to pick her up and carry her away from here. She tried to remember the last time she’d been hugged, or been told she did a good job by her parents, and she couldn’t. “Not everyone gets a trophy,” she remembered her mother say, “that breeds weakness.” She imagined a trophy below her, and her body getting speared on it as she fell. “Got a trophy after all!” she’d tell her mother, though that would be impossible because the time it would take her mother to get down to the ground from where they lived in the skyscraper would be long enough she’d certainly be dead in that scenario.
Graelyn felt the wind waft her, and felt her lip quiver. She felt like she was about to cry.
Ironically, that was what did it, the fear of looking weak by crying was what made her finally let go and slide out of her window.
And it suddenly struck her that this was the worst decision she had ever made.
She realized that all of her problems, everything with her family, were temporary. Sure, they’d have custody of her for years and years, but that would end, and then they wouldn’t have control of her anymore, she could cut them out of her life like a tumor. No one could tell her what to do, she would be alone, just the way she needed to be. No one to let her down, no one to fail her or demean her. She would be a lone standout against the mess of the world. She’d fix it.
Or, she would, if she hadn’t jumped out of her window.
She was going to die, and nothing she could do could change that, she was totally helpless.
And then, she wasn’t. She felt an impact, but a light one, and she bounced up a bit, before falling back down into the net. It was hard to get her balance, but she sat up, trying to take in her blurry surroundings, as a light shone on her face.
“It’s a girl Pavel, and a young one at that.”
“I could have sworn the woman on floor 59 was going to call it quits any day now. Damn.”
“You made the bet.” A security platform hovered over, and she reached out to them as they came by. A woman in black security armor lifted her up under the armpits, and set her down in the vehicle.
“Jesus, what makes a girl like you jump out the window?”
“She probably fell somehow, tried to get a better view or something.”
“No, I jumped.” She confirmed.
“Darn stupid thing to do, what do you think you’re doing? Your daddy beat you or something?” She shook her head no.
“When did the nets get added?”
“Not too long ago, some guy jumped and bust on the pavement a few months ago and we got them installed for insurance reasons.” Of course her inspiration was her undoing.
“So come on kid, why’d you jump?” Graelyn shrugged, “I thought there was no one I could count on, no one worthwhile in the whole world.”
Graelyn smiled, “there is definitely someone worthwhile I can count on.”
Well that happened. Gosh. Tune in next week, as we get out of Graelyn's memories, and back to the danger on Triton...
Update: Voting has now begun! You can check out the artist in competition to win, and vote for them and you favorite story idea HERE: http://www.jameswylder.com/home/10kd-bonus-story-contest-vote-and-meet-the-artists
Months ago, we launched our first ever Bonus story contest: and you, our beloved readers submitted ideas for bonus stories to the 10,000 Dawns Universe, and then voted on which you wanted! The result of this is one of the most beloved stories in the 10kd canon: "The Adventures of Mister Sprinkles the Cat". The runner up story, "Knights and Dragons" even got to come into existence, and Mister Sprinkles got a sequel in "The Day the Cats Spoke"!
So with the serial story that launched 10kd finishing, and 10,000 Dawns: Anthology (the exciting next phase of storytelling featuring tons of new writers!) well on the way, I thought now would be a great time to give you, the reader, what you wanted to see before the whole paradigm changed again.
So for this week, we're taking submissions, and then next week we'll be voting on them! What kind of story would you like to see that you HAVEN'T seen? What characters would you like to see more of? Leave the suggestions in the comments-- We'll be reading!
But that's not all-- we'll also be letting you pick who does the art for the story! We're lining up a whole slew of our favorite artists who have worked on the 10kd Artist's Showcase, and on the Bonus Story art, and letting you pick which one will get to do the art for the story you choose!
We're really excited to bring you the end of Graelyn and Arch's adventure in the coming weeks, and we're equally excited to show you all the stories we've been making behind the scenes for 10kd: Anthology! Its gunna be great! But for now.... Tell us what you want to see. There are 10,000 Dawns out there-- let your imagination run wild ^_^!
-Jim and the 10kd Crew
PS: If you don't know about 10kd you can find an overview HERE, and our chapter archive HERE!
I'm going to be honest: this wasn't planned. In fact, this was made for a scrapped idea to do a 10,000 Dawns listening party for David Bowie's new album. When I couldn't co-ordinate it, I scrapped it.
"I can do it for David Bowie's next album. No rush." I thought. Turns out, I was wrong. David Bowie passed away at 69, as we learned today... After showing this piece to a few friends today, I decided to put it up as my tribute to the life of this great man. I 'm leaving it as it is, even the unintentional anachronisms. David Bowie meant a lot to us here at 10kd, if you couldn't tell from Graelyn holding a private dance party to his song "Miracle Goodnight" or teaching "God Bless the Girl" to Lizette. We hope this means something to you today.
"Oh I'll be free, just like that bluebird, oh I'll be free, ain't that just like me?" -Bowie
-Love, Jim and the 10kd Crew.
You can hear the song this story references here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kszLwBaC4Sw
And a Star Spun Dark
World Revolutionary Council Prison, Songbird’s World.
Out of a carboard sleeve, and a thin paper one inside that, Graelyn pulled out a black disk.
“What is that?” Arch asked.
“It’s a Vinyl record.” Graelyn replied, “Specifically David Bowie’s album Blackstar.”
“Do you like it?”
“Well, his next one was better.”
The prison didn’t let the prisoners have digital music devices, as more than one person had managed to use the components to cause havoc or attempt a breakout, notably one hacker who’d set all the intercoms to play the famous ballad “Never Gunna Give You Up” for ten hours. Instead, they had a library of Vinyl records, complete with a turntable that was as analog as they could make it. Graelyn flipped the disk around in her fingers, and set it on the spindle.
“Did you ever listen to Bowie, Arch?” He shook his head.
“Not till I met you.” She picked up the needle, and put it down on the groove.
“Do you think they named dancing along to music ‘groove’ first, or the notch in a record?”
“What’s a record groove?”
“It’s the thingy that the needle moves across to create the sound on the record.” She held the record up to him. “Take a scan of it, I’m sure your brain can figure it out.” His eye flitted over it, measuring the depth of each groove. His processors went into motion, and his speaker started playing the first notes of the song.
“Shh! I’m about to play it.”
The record started.
“Wait, what is a Blackstar?” Arch cut in, after the first track ran for 10 minutes. Graelyn stopped the record.
“Well, what do you think it is?”
“I mean, that’s like a classroom teacher question.”
“I’m great with kids.”
“That is literally the opposite of what you have told me literally every other time I have brought that up.” She rolled her eyes, and leaned on the wall next to the record player.
“Fine, I’m a bad teacher. But my annoying question still stands.” She crossed her arms and raised her eyebrows.
“Well, Bowie certainly lists off a lot of things he is not, while still being a Blackstar.”
“See, context clues!”
“Fine.” She picked up the album cover, looking into the star on its front.
“David Bowie was a huge star, I mean, they even founded a religion about him on the Rim and on Mars, if you can believe that. “ Arch tapped his head.
“I can believe a lot. People are weird. Especially you skin-showing folk.”
“That’s still most people Arch.” He shrugged.
“Anyways, he did it by being different. He broke the norms, he was bisexual when being that meant it lowered his opportunities.”
“Didn’t they pass laws against that in this alternate reality?”
“Well yeah, but they also had a communist revolution here, so…”
“Ah, well, continue then.” Graelyn held up the star to Arch.
“He wasn’t like other stars. He shone in a way he wasn’t supposed to, but he still shone, and he gave people hope who were hidden. A star that shone into the murkiest depths, of hidden identities, of ways of just being alive deemed horrors by the bigoted. And he did it through rock and roll. That’s pretty nifty.”
“You just used the word nifty to describe a guy you said they have a religion based on him on Mars.”
“I apologize for nothing.”
The cell, despite the best intentions of a benevolent alternate reality revolutionary communist government, was really cold. Graelyn curled her toes up, and then her knees up to her chest, pulling her blanket around her tight. Still, she shivered. That was when she heard the noise. She bolted up, reaching in the dark for something to threaten the breathing coming from inside her cell that wasn’t her own. All she had was a hard rubber spoon, so she used that, while fishing for her glasses with the other hand. As her eyes actually gained the ability to focus, she made out the figure in the darkness. He wore a black frock coat, and his white sleeves popped out from the edges. The hands attached to them moved rhythmically on the walls, as though searching for a hole in them. His hair was sticking up with gel. He looked old. His eyes were covered with a rag, buttons sewn over the eyes.
“How did you get in here?” She said loudly.
“Baby girl, you’re dreaming.” He said, stroking the wall.
“Who are you?” She got up, the blanket wrapped around her like a cloak.
“The name is the greatest pop star in the history of the universe.” Graelyn lowered her spoon.
“Wait, David Bowie? You’re like… Well, you died several centuries ago. I wasn’t expecting to see you here.” He turned around, his hands clenching the wall.”
“Like I said, its all a dream. Just like the movie makers when they run out of plot threads.”
Graelyn examined him closely, “Wait! You’re Blackstar era Bowie! With the button eyes, and the….” She mimicked his weird movements, “you know the thing you do with the stuff. I mean, I liked your next album better, but still.”
“You’re very articulate.”
“I’m a scientist not a songwriter.” Bowie nodded, and flashed his teeth. “So, what gives me the honor of a dream visit from a rock god turned weird Martian/Rimward pseudo diety?”
“Just a reminder for you babe, that you’re not what they make of you, you’re what you are.”
“Does that mean something?”
“You’re a Blackstar.” She sat back down on the bed, pondering with the spoon pressed to her chin.
“They want to execute me here, you know, for being myself.
“Their loss.” He threw up his hands as if in hallelujah, “Minding the minds, when they couldn’t mind at all, taking control when you were always who you are.”
“I’m a Blackstar.”
“You’re a Blackstar.”
“But what does that mean? I could die here, just explain it.” Bowie sat down next to her, crossing his legs and looking into her eyes with his buttons.
“I died to you know. I was no god, just flesh and blood.”
“Yeah, but you were a flesh and blood marvel!”
“That’s the joke, moonbeam, you’re just a flesh and blood marvel to.”
Graelyn was delivered her clothes for the trial. She’d picked them out before hand from a giant selection Manuel had given her. She had to have a guard there when she got changed, so Shona, from Songbird’s squad, stood in the room with her, awkwardly looking at the room’s upper Northwest corner as she got out of her clothes. Hesitating, Graelyn walked over to the record player, and put the needle back on, blowing a bit of dust off it.
“Music?” Shona asked oddly.
“It helps me relax. Helps give me a reminder.”
“What kind of reminder?” Graelyn smiled.
“That I’m a Blackstar. I’m not a gangster.” Shona gave her a weird look, and then looked back up at the corner embarrassed.
“Still not sure I get the whole Bowie thing.”
“Its like turning on an old friend.”
“An old friend? You never met him and he’s been dead for centuries.”
“He’s keeping us company long after he turned to dust, what more could you ask of a friend?”
"Something happened on the day he died
the spirit rose a meter, then stepped aside.
Somebody else took his place, and bravely cried:
'I'm a Blackstar! I'm a Blackstar!" -David Bowie, Blackstar
by James Wylder
You can watch the music video for the title song from "Blackstar" here:
It is the year. We have been counting down to it from the number, but now it is the year. My sister, she carries the disk in her hand, and we walk to the temple. The jai-no eyes us from the side. The black magicians are jealous, but they were never granted the third eye. We walk up the steps of the temple. The stones are still stained with blood. They will always be, even after the rain comes.
He is lying on the tablet, it is both a large piece of stone, and a place for writing. There are so many words on it.
“Did you bring the disk?” He asks, his voice rasping.
“The sky is going to boil. Seven have already burned their eyes out trying to look at it.”
“I asked if you brought the disk.” She holds it up to him. “Good, place it on the spindle.” She carefully does.
“Now press the plaque of the broke circle.” She hesitates. “DO IT.” He weakly screams.
She presses the plaque, and cringes at the holy light.
“Press the plaque of the three lines and three points.” Weeping, she does so. Weeping, I hold my face.
The room is suddenly booming, filled with sound.
“Master?” I whimper. He smiles.
“I'm a Blackstar.” He whispers.
David Bowie was gone, then he came back. His last album before he fell off the face of the Earth ended with a song called “Bring me the Disco King,” and then while dragging the Disco King's severed head he returned with an album that skewered the entire notion of nostalgia, while also reveling it, “The Next Day.” The striking thing about “The Next Day” isn't its bold painting over of the most treasured memories of its own creator, but the fact that it was good at all. David Bowie is getting old, after all, and if he had simply churned out a mediocre album that called back with sincere and trite nostalgia, it would have still sold well.
“Hey guys, remember me? David? You used to like me back in the day? Relieve those days in washed out paper cuts.”
He didn't say, he didn't do.
Instead, he did something drastic: He made art.
But while “The Next Day” felt at times like it was the best songs David Bowie wrote during his hiatus, each with something to say but sometimes disconnected from each other, his new album Blackstar is cohesive and singular. You can listen to the album like a 40 minute song in movements. The words change, but the melodies and music are an experience nearly tactile: you can feel them slipping through the valves of your heart, right into your liver.
In many ways the album of David Bowie's that Blackstar resembles the most is his cocaine fueled opus “Station to Station” only without the cocaine, and I mean that in a good way. Where Station to Station felt like a man on the edge of his life trying to squeeze the ache in his brain out into song, Blackstar feels like a seasoned artist who has been on the edge of his life many times, and now that he is clear of it is putting the things in the corners of his eyes onto disks and handing them out to teenagers.
"Happy Birthday to me! Everyone have some creepy cult party jazz!"
I imagine, if he threw a birthday party, it would be bananas. I imagine, if you bought this album, you'd enjoy it. Its not just good, after all, its not just great, its not just four stars, its a Blackstar.
* * * *
The disk finished rotating, and we stared at the Master. My sister looked at me, her eyes wide, they shimmered a bit, and I knew what I had to say, as I went out onto the balcony before the people, as the music calmed the dead heavens and the beasts beneath our dreams seeped back into their pores.
I bravely cried, “I'm a Blackstar. I'm a Blackstar.”
Art by Annie Zhu, Story by James Wylder
All chapters are also available as an audio podcast from the Southgate Media Group.
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Chapter 21: The Burden of Solitude
“What the hell is this?”
“Er, Atlantis base I just covered that, keep up.”
“No, you’re on Titan. With Dogs that should have died literally centuries ago. How.”
“How do you know they’re the same dogs?” Heinrich chimed in.
“They’re the same dogs.” June and Graelyn said in unison, which seemed to piss both of them off slightly, “The dogs both had a distinctive mark on their left flank, its there.” Heinrich hadn’t been looking, but yes, yes there was. Some letter of the Cyrillic alphabet.
“Is it really surprising they’re the same dogs? I mean, you know what’s going on here don’t you?”
“I clearly don’t, miss…. Scythes. So I’d appreciate if you’d stop talking down to me.” Graeylin looked disappointed, and ran her hand along her tightly pony-tailed hair, her pin glinting off the bright lights. “Oh. Oh well.” She made a sort of dismissive gesture to no one in particular.
“Its pretty obvious we’re not from here though at least? I’m sorry you didn’t figure out we were from the future.”
“…What?” Heinrich said.
“The future. You know, that time that’s not now but yet.”
“I know what the future is.”
“Are you sure? Regardless, you got here just in time.” She turned abruptly, and started walking down the silver, gray, and green hallway.
“In time for what?” June called.
“We’re going to be facing away from the solar system in a moment, and since it’s the year 2227, it should happen again.”
“Stop teasing us. What?”
“We should encounter another extra-solar object. Only not like any you’ve seen before. Follow me.” They obliged her, what else could they do, “and take off those bulky things this place is airtight with the best fake gravity money can buy, you just look ridiculous.” She pushed her glasses up into the bridge of her nose and kept walking. The man called Archimedes sighed, and squatted down to pet one of the dogs, “Sorry about that, she’s usually pretty snippy when people can’t keep up with her.” June nodded, and followed Graelyn down the hallway, she and Heinrich removing their helmets and gloves as they went. The facility varied between being gray silver and green, or gray silver and blue depending on the area they passed through though neither June nor Heinrich could particularly figure out why. Graelyn kept her eyes forward, with a supreme aura of confidence that moved beyond self esteem and into superiority. Parts of the place looked as though they had been ransacked, with knocked over tables and chairs, smashed computers, and broken mugs and glassware every which way. The walls were sometimes stained with what looked horribly like brown dried blood. Graelyn kept walking till she arrived at an open room with a big table in the middle displaying a very high quality hologram of Titan and the space surrounding it. Floating next to it in the air was a timer, that appeared to be ticking down. The rest of the room was lined with scientific equipment of all varieties, some recognizable (a seismograph, microscopes, flasks and Bunsen burners) and some that were utterly foreign (a strange device that appeared to be a floating silvery orb that shifted into geometric shapes while a panel under the floating orb displayed a seemingly random number with every shift) but the purpose of the room was fairly obvious: it was a lab and command center in one. It was also fairly messy, but in that way a room looks when someone is a clean freak but hasn’t had the time to clean up properly but still forced an effort at it.
“You want an explanation to what’s going on? I’ll give you one.”
“Aren’t you curious who we are?” Graelyn shook her head to June’s question.
“Not in the slightest. I know who you are, because I knew you were going to arrive here. I’m from the future remember? You meet me and write all about it. Though dare I say, you kind of left out some of the awkward bits.” She waved her hand and pulled up a model of their ship.
“If I’m correct, you have a WeN-D model AI on board correct?”
June nodded, “that’s right.”
“Could you patch her through your suit’s speakers? I know she’s already listening in.”
Heinrich was surprised June followed the request without question; he really didn’t understand what June was doing. She clearly didn’t trust either of these people, but seemed to be willing to go along with them. Archimedes finally entered, carrying a dog under either arm in an unintentionally condescending show of strength. WeN-D’s voice then crackled in, “Hello?”
“WeN-D, welcome to Triton.”
“Thank you, Miss Scythes.”
“Now WeN-D, you should find the list of codes to jack into this building’s mainframe in the Folder labeled F22 on your G drive, correct?”
“That’s… How is that correct?”
“Log in, this will make things easier.” Graelyn waved her hand through the hologram, and it shifted again, the colored light shimmering on her cat pin. The hologram showed a team of people in a clothing style that clearly hadn’t been created yet. Graelyn was there, though she looked younger, and more optimistic. “This is the team who worked on Project Atlantis. Officially, we were attempting to build underwater cities in the deep ocean. Unofficially, we were attempting to use the natural high pressure of the deep ocean on earth to facilitate experiments by our CEO, John Aril. He had a theory that there had been experiments in an alternate reality by another version of himself to create and manipulate tears in the fabric of reality in order to travel to or remove things from alternate realities.”
June grimaced, “I’d say that’s impossible, but you’re here.”
“Well, we’re from an alternate reality, so clearly it can happen. We’ve managed to get into your reality, just in the wrong time… But I’m getting ahead of myself.” Arch set the dogs down, and they walked over to the table and lay down in front of it. Graelyn didn’t pay particular attention.
“Unfortunately, as it turned out not only was the experiment on our end not ready, but neither was the one being worked on in the other universe, which by the way did exist and Aril was totally right about. Also, we weren’t the first people to try hopping realities, and there seemed to be a sort of… Inter reality travel regulation group. An image appeared of a man in black robes wearing a ring with an arc emblem on it, or maybe it was just a sideways “C”. “They didn’t react kindly to our jaunting around, and the experiment went even worse than anticipated. We’ve been wandering around alternate realities for a while now, before ending up in our your time stream and… well, getting stuck there to. But this time is different, because in a way I’ve always known I’d meet you, June. I’ve been waiting a long time.” Graelyn pulled off her cat pin, holding it up to the light, and Heinrich noticed the obvious thing he’d been missing all this time: it was the same cat pin June was wearing, and the same one in the hologram.
“That isn’t right though, you’re not supposed to have the pin are you?”
“Am I? Sorry, its very hard to get the timing on these things right.”
June paced around the table, stepping over the sleeping dog. “This has been all ready for so long, all these coincidences, all waiting for this year in this place for both of us to be here.” Graelyn nodded, “I’m afraid on that matter you know more than I do, I only know what was told to me.”
Heinrich looked between the two women, they were staring each other down.
“Okay, you two clearly are in cahoots somehow, and I want in. You’re keeping stuff from me, you’ve been keeping stuff from me this whole time apparently June, and I’m done with it. Tell me what on Earth is going on.” June sighed, “Heinrich, this isn’t the first time I’ve seen Graelyn.”
“You’ve met before?”
“No, she’s met me. I’ve never met her before.” Graelyn clarified.
“But you knew you were going to meet her?” Graelyn nodded again.
“God, okay, so…. Time travel is possible… Second question: this base has been here a long time if the dogs have survived, so how have you survived?”
Graelyn ran her hand over her hair again, and closed her eyes. She looked like she was listening to a sound only she could hear. “Because for Arch and I we’ve only been here a few days, and this base isn’t always here… It comes and goes.” Arch spoke again, “Yeah, basically this building has been here for a few days a really long time ago, a few days in the 1970’s, and has been here for a few days now.”
“That also isn’t possible…” Heinrich muttered.
“You’ll see exactly how possible it is very soon. I’m afraid with your arrival, it means the 2227 cycle we’re on is about to reach the point where its going to happen.”
Heinrich crossed his arms, “What’s going to happen?”
Graelyn lowered her spectacles on her nose.
She looked him right in the eyes.
She leaned in slightly.
The light of the hologram cut into her face, so her eye and cheek swirled with the seas of Neptune.
“What’s going to happen,” she began, “is first contact.”
There are some things you can say that people instantly know the power of, statements that hold a weight beyond the seeming face of their characters. These are things with implications, bold statements that open up profound weight beyond the echo of their waves of the flow of their ink. This was not only one of those statements, but it was one to which there was no way to immediately respond. The words took up the next few minutes, though there wasn’t anything else said. Anything Heinrich could think of saying didn’t seem appropriate, like slathering jam on a rock. As time ticked on though, the importance of the weight whittled till he could finally espouse something, even if it was totally unbefitting of the weight of it all.
“Yes. Well, sort of. More like a probe. I can’t tell you much about the future, but I can tell you that this won’t be the last contact with Extra-solar beings we’ll have. Of course, no one knows about this in the future. It’s all locked away in the files of Heirum J. Whitehead’s 'the Pilgrimage' group who you’ll be reporting back to. But what we do here is still going to be important, and its going to influence the future in huge ways.”
“And you knew about this, June?” She shook her head, “I didn’t know all of that...” She looked at the hologram, “So what do we have to do?”
“Keep your spacesuits on. I’ll be getting mine on in a second. Arch is fine as he is.”
* * * * *
They met Arch and Graelyn at the airlock. She looked kind of awkward in a spacesuit, the way people who weren’t used to space do, bumping into corners, and expecting their reflexes to be faster. Arch looked just as imposing as always. “I’m still not sure of a lot of this… They haven’t explained everything well, like why the building disappears and reappears as they claim it does.”
“I know. And the only way we’re going to learn is if we stick by them. I’ve been waiting a long time for this. Be patient. We’ll get our answers.”
WeN-D piped into their comms, “Er, hello, hi. I’m sensing some really weird things from space. You’ve almost rotated into a full-darkside position from Neptune. I checked, you’re on the equator, so you’ll be on the furthest point on the farthest place in our solar system. Whatever that means.
“Thank you WeN-D. Keep monitoring everything, we need someone who can analyze all the data we’re getting.”
“I’m on the job.”
“Great.” Graelyn pushed the button to open the airlock, and the four of them stepped in, leaving the two dogs whimpering behind them. The airlock shut, decompressed, and opened up into what was both the darkest and most brilliantly colored sky they had ever seen. With the light from the sun absent, it was darker than you can imagine, but the stars were bountiful in a way they had never seen. It wasn’t that much further out as the scale of the universe goes, but it was enough. Above them a cathedral ceiling of light lit their path, the dust they kicked up incense, the arbitrary point they walked towards their labyrinthian center.
WeN-D said the readings were increasing, and as the moon turned, the darkness and lights grew more and more, till where they stood was it, the farthest place and the furthest. And they knew it was, somehow. In their bones and in their blood they felt so distant and so put away from anything they had known. It was then in that distance that the sky opened up in a tear of fantastic blue and white, literally. For a moment they felt it wash over them, felt that there was something wrong with reality, that it was wounded, and from that wound shot out a silvery white ball, rocketing downward like a meteor. It should have impacted the moon, and tore up the ground, sending the four humans flying like bowling pins, or crushed them under dirt, rock, and ice. But instead it stopped 1.23 meters off the ground and hovered there for a moment. Its skin was silvery blue and crystalline, with white and faint black designs on it. The ball began moving, slowly this way and that way, always maintaining its height of 1.23 meters. Any noises it made were intransible in the near vacuum.
The ball was, according to the measurements WeN-D took from the visual data, also 1.23 meters in diameter, and according to the same visuals was moving in the shape of an asterisk. It moved, out in one direction, and back in towards its center landing point. It did this over and over again, while the four (or five, depending on who you count as living) watched it.
“Should we attempt to communicate with it?”Heinrich asked.
June shook her head, “How on Eart- how could we?”
Graelyn was focused on it with a fixed stare.
“Is it from the Council Incursion?” Archimedes asked.
Graelyn nodded, “It’s some sort of probe. A scout.”
“Council Incursion?”Heinrich didn’t take his eyes off of the orb.
“Its in the future, don’t worry about it.”
“You mean there are more of these things?”
“No. There are it’s creators. That’s why this is important. This is the first shot, and whatever we do here is going to reverberate through history... A lot of histories, actually. Maybe we’ll capture it and gain a technical edge. Maybe it will report back on us and they’ll have plenty of tactical data in order to begin their assaults. Maybe it will just explode or something. I don’t know. But what I do know is its up to us, right at this moment to decide that with our actions.” The ball stopped moving in an asterisk.
“This isn’t your first time seeing something like this then. Tell us what to do.” Graelyn tried to ignore the clammy feeling she had as the bead of sweat rolled down her face, and the suit’s automatic systems blasted cold air there and began to absorb the moisture. The ball suddenly and silently dropped to the ground.
“Huh.” She muttered.
“First step, lets start running.” Archimedes said.
“I don’t see why Arch it hasn’t-“
Four legs popped out of the orb, right where some of the patterns on the shell had been. Its sharp feet pierced the icy ground as it barreled towards them.
“Run- move move MOVE!”
“Why is it running with legs when it could float?”
“Don’t question the alien robot’s motivations Grae!”
“WeN-D we might need a pick up or something.”
“No! We need to trap it. It wants to learn from us, we have to sto-“ she tripped on a rock, and just as swiftly was pulled up by Archimedes large hand. “-p it from leaving here and we’re the best bait there is. Back to the base.”
They ran from it at breakneck speak, bounding and leaping in the low gravity. The orb seemed like it should have caught up with them, and June looked at Graelyn across the dark plain with a look of indignation. Graelyn looked back, maybe her curiosity got the better of her, maybe despite her cool demeanor she was as terrified as she should have been. Whatever the reason her head turned, and her attention lifted up off the ground and floated to the charging orb kicking up moon dust. That was when she tripped a second time. It wasn’t a graceful trip, like you’d see in the cinema, she didn’t fall straight towards the dirt with a stunned expression on her face, arms ready for the fall: her ankle spun around more than it should have, and in the low gravity she not only fell but corkscrewed. As she spun her face came into view every other moment which gave her the effect of a cheap animation as her face became more and more shocked with every rotation. She hit the ground head first, and bounced. A hand reached out above her, and gently kept her from floating off. Instead she hovered there, face down, sinking slowly. The other hand attached to the person stabilizing her reached out the other direction, towards the charging orb. It stopped, inches away from him. A single leg lifted up, and seemed to gently poke him in the chest. It wasn’t so innocuous for very long, as from under the curved fore part of the leg, silvery white tendrils that looked wound like rope slithered out, and began feeling around his chest. Archimedes tensed (it was him, of course it was).
June and Heinrich grabbed Graelyn and slid her into a standing position. The orb and Arch stared off, or something like starting each other off. If there had been sound, it probably would have been humming in an ominous pulsing way, but it was inappropriately silent instead. June pulled on Graelyn’s hand, but she remained rooted in place, her eyes fixed on Archimedes.
“Arch?” She whimpered. She whimpered? She never whimpered.
“Just hold still, you’ll be okay.” She said firmly, as though her resolve had never been shaken in her life. June took a hold of Graelyn’s shoulder, and shook her head.
“How are you sure?”
“Trust me. I have your pin right?” Graelyn looked back at Arch, the tendrils were wrapping around his chest.
“They’re trying to get inside my carapace Grae.”
“Damn it.” She tried to wipe her brow instinctively, but there was a helmet in between.
“Cut it. Cut the probes.”
“What if that sets it off and it goes berserk?”
“Arch we’ll deal with that, get free.”
“We need to get back to the building.”
“I’m not leaving Arch. I told him to get in front of it.”
“I’ll hold it off Graelyn, go.”
“I’m not leaving you.”
“Heinrich, grab her.” June and Heinrich took Graelyn by the arms and pulled her back. She tensed at first, letting them pull her with light resistance as Arch became enveloped by the cables. Then something clicked inside her like a watch mechanism, and she turned with them, and moved as quickly as she could, hiding the wince in her breath as her twisted ankle hit the ground.
“WeN-D we need a pick up. Now.” June basically yelled it into her comlink.
“Not the base?”
“Not the base.” She told Heinrich.
Graelyn tried not to look back at Arch. She had never been the greatest partner to him, and she knew that. Her concern was generally beyond people, beyond things. If there was a clock, she could try to work out the things inside it by how it moved and sounded. She visualized the insides of people to, made guesses about what was going on inside them by any outer clues she could get. Where some people undressed people with their eyes, she skinned them. Today though, she could imagine the cords wrapping around him, squeezing his outer shell till the squishy bits inside burst. This image though wasn’t fascinating, it made her stomach churn, and Graelyn tried to push back everything she’d been told as a child.
...Is Arch gunna be okay? What will Graelyn do... and what is she pushing back? Find out next week on 10,000 Dawns! Same Dawn time, same Dawn place!
Poet, Playwright, Game Designer, Writer, Freelancer for hire.