Winter storm P3

Part 1, Part 2

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Etik wandered the polar ice, trying to keep away from the giants who lived in the area. As the world grew darker around them, they tried not to give up hope. But it was difficult. It was disheartening.

When night fell in earnest, they shivered in their furs and they kept on looking for that place of warmth and peace that was supposed to be here. But they were sure they would never find it. They were sure that they would search and search until they froze or starved.

After what might have been days or weeks had the sun still shone, Etik found an old, cold campsite. They might have thought it their own, or some remnant of their band’s passage however long ago. But neither they nor their band would have left so much behind, would have left so much detritus.

When they touched the fire pit, it was warm.

But skilled as Etik must have been in tracking, they could find no sign of anyone arriving or leaving the campsite. Certainly it was trampled flat into the ice, but the feet that had made it had not come from anywhere, or gone to anywhere.

The tents were empty, supplies long since frozen. When Etik tried to warm some of the food with their body, it crumbled like snow in their hands. But, upon returning to the fire pit, they found a snake.

You must understand, there were no snakes in Eldfaal. It was too cold year-round for them to live there. And yet, here was a snake, curled up in the warmth of the fire pit. Etik didn’t know what it was, nor what they should do with it.

They poked it and it unfurled to look at them. It opened its mouth wide to show Etik its fangs and they gazed curiously at it. It unwound from the firepit and slithered into the snow and away from the camp site at great speed.

Etik chased the snake into the snow and ice, almost sprinting to keep up with the fast-moving creature. Stories vary as to what the snake looked like. Was it massive? Or small? Was it colourful? Or dull? There’s no way to know, of course. No one ever managed to ask Etik what they saw.

As they chased the snake, Etik found themselves getting colder and colder, as if the exercise were leaching the heat from their body. They found themselves getting slower and slower, getting light-headed, breathing heavily. Perhaps, in retrospect, the snake was venomous and had bitten Etik. Or perhaps they had not eaten for a long time.

But they kept following the snake, stumbling and panting, forcing their sluggish body to move through the cold. And finally, the snake stopped, weaving its way into a roaring fire on the ice and curling up.

By the fire sat… well. It depends who you ask what sat by the fire. Perhaps it was a troll woman with bright auburn fur and blazing red eyes. Perhaps it was a human man with bright red hair and blazing eyes. Perhaps it was someone nondescript, indecipherable. It sat by the fire and it watched Etik pant and stumble into the light that they had not seen mere moments past.

And the story goes that it smiled.

The great quest

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Our protagonist travels from the furthest reaches of Maranalin to the ‘centre of the world’, or specifically to the Cradle Jungle. And it’s a little interesting to think that there were people telling this story who had forgotten that the Cradle Jungle was there. Though I’m sure at least Lithez would deny it as the centre of the world.

Possibly our protagonist comes from right next door. Or even from within the Cradle Jungle. They all reach some kind of wonder, some lush and healthy vegetation, some pure water, some astounding animal. They all reach something beautiful and wonderous. And if you’ve been to the Cradle Jungle: it still feels like that.

But our protagonist finds that they cannot take anything, either from that central garden – for those who came from closer to, or within, the jungle – or the Jungle itself. Perhaps they pick fruit and it rots from their hand as they leave, or the pure water turns black and poisonous, or animals refuse to leave and cannot be convinced.

And so our protagonist must travel further into the Jungle, into the garden if they had not already found it, all the way to some idyllic clearing in the centre of the Jungle. Here they find the most wonderous plants, the purest water, the sweetest fruits, the most beautiful animals.

And here, too, they find Yara. For once it was said that Yara rested in the precise centre of the world. That was back when we still thought Yara had personally created all life, rather than just brought the seeds that became all life. But either way, it seems that the story was correct.

Our protagonist pleads or bargains with Yara to please let them take some plant or animal or water to relieve whatever strife brought them here. And Yara refuses. This might be a point of contention, since the modern religious view is that Yara in particular was wonderous and giving. But Yara refuses to help all those people.

So, in their different ways, they tried to win their relief from Yara. The young men stole or fought. The young women challenged Yara to games of the mind. The older women comforted Yara into negligence or agreement. Older men would tell stories, and usually put Yara to sleep.

Regardless of the method, our various protagonists won some of Yara’s power to take back to their stricken homelands. And perhaps they revitalised the soil, or they made the crops grow, or they healed the herds, or they made the sea retreat. Or they used it to smite their enemies, if they’re that one fuck from Lithez.

Regardless of what they did, it worked. But it had consequences.

Perhaps, and this is not so radical a thought, perhaps many of our protagonists existed, maybe even all of them and more. Perhaps hundreds of people from the ancient world went to Yara and were granted or took some kind of power.

Slowly, over the decades or centuries, Yara was worn slowly away. Not completely, I’m sure, but enough. Yara, as we know, was the first Creator to fracture, the first to come apart. And when Yara came apart, so did Maranalin.

In great, killing flames did the unified Maranalin come apart at some invisible seams. And the pieces floated away from each other to eventually become the continents and islands we have now. But the people survived, didn’t they? And everyone tells the story of taking Yara’s power, so perhaps she protected us.

Or not, I don’t know.

Day 50 and Podcast things

I just realised, posting Winter storm part 2, that I’ve done 50 daily stories. This isn’t a super celebratory post or whatever, that’s sort of the point of the daily stories. I plan to keep doing them, and I encourage people, if you’ve got like 40 minutes to an hour spare a day, to maybe consider trying to write a short story every day.

Podcast things

In terms of the podcast, I have a few more episodes of the short story variety mapped out (probably going to do something with Winter storm). Still no timeline on the project with my friend, still not sure if it’ll amount to anything. Also I just bought an electric drum kit, so you might hear some of that on the next episode.

Thanks for reading all my shit.

Winter storm P2

Part 1

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Etik was left alone on the ice, freezing and grieving their lost family. They were not a navigator, and though they followed the sun and the stars as all ice hunters are trained to do, they always found themselves turned around, found themselves moving further into the pole as if the sky itself were trying to misdirect them.

For the first time in their life, Etik took down a seal by themselves. And they regretted doing it, it was not so old a seal, not so threatening. But they were starving and cold and they needed the blubber.

They ate as much as they could before the body started to freeze, they ate and ate long past being hungry. Only when they were chewing on ice did they stop eating. And they did feel better, even filled with regret, they felt better for the eating. And some other animal would find those frozen remains and be sustained as the days got ever shorter.

Though their efforts seemed fruitless, Etik kept on trying to find their way back off the ice. Still they got turned around and turned around, but as the days continued to shorten, they were starting to panic. They absolutely did not want to be stuck on the ice at night. Perhaps they feared the giants or the predators, but more likely they feared the cold.

And here I would like to make a brief aside about giants.

Though, in more recent times, giants are a consistent part of life for many humans, in the past there was much more separation between humans and giants. As humans have multiplied and spread, and giants have done similarly but not as vigorously, we have come into greater proximity, better understanding has been reached by and large, and there are very rarely any hostilities. This was not so true in the past.

Giants were very much feared by earlier humans, as maybe you can imagine, and it was rare for our languages to be mutually intelligible, let alone for us to be able to speak the same languages. So even if whatever giant tribe or village wasn’t particularly aggressive or territorial, humans tended to stay away out of fear.

The point of that digression, though, is that had Etik been less fearful of the giants who lived on the polar ice, it is possible that they would have had an easier time of the approaching night. Though, of course, some versions of the story hold that Etik’s band was killed by giants, so maybe I’m just talking nonsense.

Regardless, Etik was in something of a panic, as night approached and they could not find any path off the ice. It was only when night came so close that Etik was sure they could not get home before it fell that they sought another solution.

In the harsh historical light, Etik’s solution might seem foolish, but it did work. They decided that instead of leaving the polar ice, they would find the exact centre of it. Many of the tribes that would later form the Eldiket nations, among which Etik was a member, told myths of a place of warmth and comfort that could be found at the exact point of the north pole.

It was that place of warmth and comfort that Etik sought. And certainly they didn’t find it, but what they did find was vastly more interesting. To be continued, I suppose.

Winter storm

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When the first gods started to crack, it was not some inevitability of nature. The Creators were not destined to fall to pieces, to be consumed and to spawn those new and strange things that took to the world. Well… that’s the question of destiny, surely. Is anything destined? Is everything?

The first crack put into the creators was by a young person in Eldfaal, though calling it that would be a little anachronistic. The north polar land mass had many names, and still does. At the time of this story, no one had decided to call the whole continent Eldfaal.

Etik was born to ice fishers, or hunters. The story goes that they were born on the ice at night during a storm, though that seems wildly unlikely. Perhaps Etik was born during a storm, or on the ice, those are possible if a little unlikely, but it is vanishingly unlikely that they were born at night on the ice.

To be clear, this is the winter night that we’re talking about, when most of Eldfaal is in darkness for nearly three months. The ice hunters had their shit together, they didn’t stay on the ice at night. Mythicists might say that the storm trapped them, but again, they had their shit together and they would not have stayed on the ice if a storm was coming as night was approaching.

Anyway, now that I’ve rained on the party a bit, on with the story. Etik was born, perhaps on the ice, perhaps during a storm, very likely at night. And they were hardy, as most babies of the ice hunters were.

They were precocious, so goes the story. They learned to read very young, they learned to walk and speak very young. Perhaps they went out onto the ice very young, but perhaps not. They learned to farm and garden very young, though most ice hunters do.

And this is a bit of a misconception, I think. Most of the food the ice hunters ate was not from hunting, and still isn’t. The use of the summer hunting was particularly for hides and fat, and the meat was a welcome addition to the diet of course. Most of the food, and most of the nutrition, came from the farming or gathering camps off the ice.

The stories go that when Etik was a young teenager, a few years into going to the ice at least, a storm hit suddenly, pushing the band further north than they typically went. I may have poo pooed a storm earlier, but this is possible. It may be especially possible if some weather seer underestimated the storm and decided to go north to avoid it.

Perhaps equipment was lost, perhaps the band was pushed extremely too far north, but most of the band died. Either by weather or by animals or by giants, most of the band was lost, leaving just little Etik, grieving and alone. Stranded and lost.

Really, a very bad situation to be in.

Podcast Episode: The Wanderer

Episode 4 – The Wanderer The World Cycle

Full Text

The Wanderer
Announcement

Alright, so I’m back to the podcast, woo.

Um, I did finish my masters… did alright. I’m applying for a PhD though so it might disappear just as quickly.

If there are any people, I guess, curious what the plan is: I don’t have anything particular planned exactly. My thought is: I’m going to occasionally try and do short stories. Probably not as long as I originally intended them to be but, you know, we’ll see.

And a friend of mine has, let’s say tentatively, agreed to collaborate on a project for the podcast so hopefully that’ll be coming up at some point. But you know how these things are.

I don’t have a specific timeline on that project, and I don’t have a specific schedule in mind for the short stories. So, we’ll see.

All that having been said: onto the podcast, I guess.

[interstitial strings]

Introduction

Welcome back to the World Cycle Podcast, I know it’s been a while. Today we’re reading a short story called the Wanderer, which I wrote in parts for my daily story project between the tenth and the twelfth of April, twenty twenty-one with some additional editing since then. Full text can be found on my blog: worldcyclepodcast.wordpress.com.

[theme music]

The Wanderer

The Wanderer meandered, or wandered if we want to be cute about it, around the buttresses and rooves and archways of the old Svarlich ruins. In short, they explored the outside of the ruins looking for some way in.

The Svarlich ruins were gargantuan, towering, staggering in their size. And every so often, the Wanderer would see some faint, magical light playing through the labyrinthine structures. But when they reached the light, they could never find the source. They explored a long time before they found the pillar, the obelisk.

It was made of the same stone as the rest of the ruins, but glowed in bright blue lines, in swirling patterns about the bulk of the thing. The Wanderer placed their hand against it, and up their arm flowed the stone and glowing lines until their hand sank into the obelisk.

There came a click.

The obelisk sank into the ground and continued to sink, a staircase unfolding down into faintly luminescent dimness. Once the movement had stopped, those glowing lines unfolded down the stairway and into the corridors below.

The Wanderer followed.

Down and down, the Wanderer followed the glowing lines, down into a corridor that took them deeper into the ruins. But here were no ruins. The walls were pristine, those glowing lines unmarred and unbroken. No litter covered the floor, not even dust.

The Wanderer emerged into a large room, onto a walkway railed off from a massive old machine. The Wanderer gazed down on the machine, still and silent, rusting and dusty, and they smiled.

The Wanderer pressed a hand to the machine, and that rusted, dusty metal spread up their arm until their hand sank into it. There was a rumble, a whir, a crunching and crackling, and the machine began to hum. A port opened in the machine and out snaked a conveyer belt, winding out of sight and through the back wall of the cavernous room.

On the conveyer belt were lumps of rust, of dust, of cracked and crushed bone and scraps of cloth. And for a moment the Wanderer was transfixed by the conveyer belt, transfixed by the machine grinding itself clean.

Then they followed the belt as it wound between piles of detritus and crumbling pillars and eventually through a large slot in the far wall. Beside the slot was an old, metal door, rusted over completely. The Wanderer pushed at it and it creaked and crackled and did not open.

They pressed their hand to it and the rust travelled up their arm and their hand sank into the door. There came a screeching and the door started to come apart under the Wanderer’s touch, flaking and crumbling into rust, until there was nothing left of it.

Beyond was a small room with a small chair beside the conveyer belt. A skeleton sat on the small chair, hunched over the conveyer belt as if inspecting the detritus churning past. Wires and strips of bright metal snaked from the chair and the ground into the skeleton, keeping the cadaver eternally in place.

The Wanderer gingerly, gently placed a hand against the skull and closed their eyes, and that same shining metal and the glowing magical lines traced up the Wanderer’s arm, and then down into the skeleton until the bones and wires and metal were covered.

Suddenly, that creeping magic retreated into the Wanderer, taking the wires and metal with it, and the skeleton collapsed onto the conveyer belt with almost a sigh of relief.

The Wanderer stood and watched the skeleton collapse onto the conveyer belt, watched it be taken through a slot in the wall. Faintly, a humming could be heard from that slot in the wall. A door stood beside it, rusted over.

The Wanderer placed a hand to the door and the rust spread up their arm and their hand sank into the ancient metal and the door disintegrated under their touch. Without was a huge chamber, most of its expanse lost to mist. A stairway led down to where regular rows of light peered through the condensation.

At the bottom of the stairs, the Wanderer found a cobbled road leading straight between rows of neat, identical houses. Doors hung open and from the doorways emanated a soft, magical light.

Inside the first house, a single room dwelling, was a machine. It was small compared to the one from which the conveyer belt originated, and it looked hand-made. Uneven plates, exposed wires, ragged lines of magical light.

A skeleton protruded from the machine, arms down to the shoulders embedded within. Wires and strips of bright metal and magical light sprouted from the makeshift machine into the skeleton.

The Wanderer put a hand to the skeleton and bright metal and magical light spread up their arm and their hand sank into the skeleton’s skull. The metal and the lights engulfed the bones and spread into the machine. When the Wanderer withdrew their touch, with it came the skeleton and the wires and the lights, and the machine dimmed.

For a long moment, the Wanderer gazed at the dead machine. And then luminescent ooze extruded slowly from where the skeleton had been embedded. It seeped along the machine, the metal ports closing slowly behind it as it dripped down to the floor, where it spread toward the Wanderer.

The Wanderer backed away.

The lights from the houses were brighter now, and as the Wanderer looked in, they could see that same ooze spreading from dozens of makeshift machines over the skeletons that were embedded within.

On the far side of the misty town, that faint humming was louder, and stairs led up to where the conveyer belt, obscured by mist, penetrated the wall. The door here was not rusted over and as the Wanderer put a hand to it, it swung open without struggle.

Within was a beautifully furnished office, luminescent ooze seeping from the corners and slowly spreading toward the Wanderer. They hurried through and into a magnificent entry-way. A double staircase, coated in dust, led up and away from the ooze.

As they stepped foot on the stairway, a breeze took up the dust and turned it to a choking storm. Light spread to the Wanderer’s face, and filters and goggles emerged from their mouth and eyes as they made their way up the steps.

Above were corridors and doors, covered by heavy iron bars, bolted into the stone walls to keep the doors very, very shut. But one door stood open, only darkness within.

The glowing Wanderer stepped into the room and found a bedroom, massive and rotting and covered in dust. Hangings were indecipherable behind the rot. In the bed was a figure, an old man with sallow, bloated flesh.

The Wanderer smiled and thrust a hand into the man’s chest to grip the steel, glowing heart within. The shining metal and magical light spread up the Wanderer’s arm and their hand sank into the heart until it was engulphed by them, consumed by them.

When the Wanderer removed their hand, the empty corpse collapsed into rot and age. The Wanderer continued to smile as they made their way back down the stairs to where the luminescent ooze had spread to cover the floor.

The Wanderer touched the luminescent ooze and the light spread slowly, creepingly, up their arm to pool in their shoulder. When they removed their hand from the ooze, the glow stayed, though faded slowly as if eaten away from the outside in.

When the Wanderer stepped onto the ooze-covered floor of the entry hall, the ooze spread to clear a space at their feet as they strode to a back door and pushed it open.

Within was a staircase, dusty and uneven, leading down into darkness. No magical lights lined the walls, no ooze crept into the open space. The Wanderer’s smile only grew as they strode down into the darkness, the fading glow in their shoulder lighting the way.

Ahead, far ahead, the Wanderer saw a dim light shining up from a hole in the ground. They reached the hole and gazed down and saw, far below, the machine into which the conveyer belt fed. Large plates had been attached to the outside of the machine and skeletons, coated in that luminescent ooze, were embedded in those plates. Each embedded up to their shoulders.

For a long time, the Wanderer stared down at the machine as it whirred and hummed and crunched, consuming those few things coming in on the conveyer belt. And then the Wanderer stepped over the edge and fell into the pit.

The landing crushed their legs, but light and stone spread from the ground into the Wanderer and in a moment, they were again standing upright. They laid hands on one of the ooze-covered bodies and the glow spread up their arms, into their torso and legs and face and in a moment, the body was gone.

Luminescent blood oozed from the machine and the ports that had held the body closed. The other bodies pulled themselves free of the machine and turned to face the Wanderer, who still smiled ear to ear.

You will not have our machine, the bodies screamed to the Wanderer.

The Wanderer put a hand to the machine and light and metal spread up their arm until their hand sank into the machine. Pieces of the machine cracked and popped as plates started to fall apart. The glowing bodies rushed at the Wanderer, hitting with unexpected force and pushing them away from the machine.

The screaming pile of oozing bodies struggled with the Wanderer, kept them pinned to the ground, kept them away from the machine. The Wanderer smiled and smiled and their body started to glow.

The glowing corpses scrambled to get away, but they were too slow, too late. And the Wanderer opened up and wrapped the glowing bodies in themselves until they were alone with the whirring, crunching machine.

The Wanderer was so big, so luminescent, so grinning and grinning.

They put their hands to the machine and they sank in as the machine popped and creaked, and their hands sank in and then their arms up to the shoulders. The Wanderer pressed their forehead to the machine and their torso and face sank into the machine as it whirred and whined and disintegrated under the Wanderer’s loving touch.

And eventually, all that was left was the glowing skeleton of the machine. It whirred and crunched and hummed. It raised its hands and the Wanderer smiled and smiled.

[outro music]

Outro

Thanks for listening to this episode of the World Cycle. Once again, you can follow me on worldcyclepodcast.wordpress.com to read more of my writing: I’m currently doing a short story every day. If you prefer, you can find me on tumblr at worldcycle.tumblr.com, where I also post the stories and reblog a lot of shit. All these links, as well as a link to the full text of this episode can be found in the show notes, if the show notes work properly.

See ya.

Tim and the friendly giant Iverack

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Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that Tim was totally fine with the course his life had taken. Let’s say that he didn’t mind the fact that his brother had been promoted over him to their father’s old role as councillor for the town. Let’s say that he didn’t mind Neta becoming the new lead mage over him. Let’s say he didn’t mind being a watcher.

Assuming all that, assuming that he wanted to be on the frigid side of the mountain with all his heart. Would Tim still regret the path his life had taken to lead him to the frigid slopes of the Arden ranges to stare down a giant?

The giant was giant, which might sound like a tautology, but bears mentioning. Some people regularly interacted with the trolls in the Nemar/Gaderan forest that bordered Tim’s home town. And trolls are big, right? Usually around three and a half metres tall, with fur and sharp teeth and claws and hidden compatriots somewhere with spears.

Giants were giant. But repeating it risks going too far the other way. They’re usually not the size of mountains, certainly. But they’re bigger than most buildings, and certainly bigger than any building Tim had ever seen.

Maybe we should focus. This particular giant was probably about thirty metres tall, wearing furs that had to have been taken from some massive creature that Tim had never heard of and carrying a spear that had to have been made from a pretty tall tree, topped with a jagged stone point.

And the giant in question was staring at Tim, who, for the record, was a metre and three quarters tall, wearing furs taken from some deer in the Nemar woodland, and carrying a small knife, a hunting bow, and a pencil and some paper to take notes with.

Though it was technically his job, Tim was not taking notes right this moment.

Tim and the giant stood quite still and stared at one another. To Tim it seemed that they had been doing this for all of eternity as the chill wind gradually wore his spirit down to nothing and his fingers froze clean off his hands.

‘What are you doing here?’ the giant asked. Its voice was less impressive than you might expect, but in a resonant, booming sort of way. As if you, with a normal voice, were speaking from the inside of a quite significant barrel.

Tim blinked furiously and choked on his words before descending into a coughing fit for several years. ‘I…’ Tim tried, and cleared his throat. ‘I’m a watcher, from Nemar,’ he said, gesturing vaguely down the mountain the way he had come. ‘My name’s Tim.’

‘Oh,’ said the giant. ‘My name’s Iverack. Nice to meet you, Tim from Nemar.’

‘Nice to meet you too, Iverack,’ Tim said. ‘Do you mind if I ask what you’re doing here?’

‘I live not so far away,’ said Iverack, also gesturing vaguely behind himself. ‘I was having a walk and I heard someone muttering to themselves. Sounded quite bitter so I thought I would come and see what was going on.’

‘Oh,’ said Tim. ‘That was me, I’m sure. Complaining about the cold.’

Iverack nodded sagely. ‘You need more furs, Tim from Nemar.’

Nina and the Darkness P2

Part 1

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She sees and sees.

The patterns indecipherable, unknowable, unseeable.

She sees and sees.

There was nothing, there were people and beasts, screaming and thrashing. There was nothing, the patterns indecipherable, unknowable. The darkness was all consuming, blinding.

She sees and sees.

She reached out her hands and they burned. They touched. They burned.

She stepped into the darkness, into the patterns indecipherable. She stepped into the people and the beasts who screamed and thrashed. She stepped into the darkness all consuming.

And there was nothing. There was nothing at all, and her hands burned under those reaching geometric tendrils. Her hands burned under the searching darkness. Her hands burned and she did not scream or thrash.

She saw.

Nina looked into the nothing, into the darkness and the unknowable patters and she saw the beasts and people screaming and thrashing. She saw them consumed and struggling and she wondered.

Nina stepped forward, toward something. She took a step and she reached out her hands and the skin was blistered and blackened and red. Her hands burned, but she need not bother with them. She had been consumed. She was in the darkness. Her hands could wait.

Nina stepped forward. That indecipherable geometry reached out and touched her outstretched hands and they burned. But she felt it, in bits and pieces, she felt the… something, felt the geometry reaching for her, reaching to touch her.

She looked at the beasts and people who screamed and thrashed and the geometry could not reach them, could not touch them. They did not want to be here.

Did Nina want to be here?

The darkness felt along her hands and forearms and her flesh burned. But she could feel it. She felt that darkness, that indecipherable geometry reaching out to her. She felt it touching her. Tentative, unsure.

Nina took a deep breath, she opened her hands, she opened herself. She opened her guarded mind, opened her contained magic. She opened. The darkness did not penetrate her openness, did not rush in. The darkness, that indecipherable geometry touched her gently, intertwined with her. It did not seek a weakness, did not seek an opening.

It sought reciprocation.

Nina felt it like cool water, like a rushing river. She felt relief. Felt gentle, seeking relief. Her hands did not burn, her body did not wither. Her magic, her mind. She felt that seeking, loving touch.

She knew.

The darkness intertwined with her fingers, intertwined with her open body and mind. That indecipherable geometry touched her gently, intertwined with her and she could see it, she knew.

Before her, Nina saw herself. She saw some bare expression of the indecipherable, unknowable darkness. She saw herself in her openness. She saw herself in her loving, gentle touch.

She took her hands and felt relief and her hands did not burn. She reached to touch her face and it was warm and gentle. She pressed her forehead to herself and she felt her warm breath and she closed her eyes and she smiled as she felt her love, felt her open willingness.

Nina was not bereaved, was not abandoned. She returned to the bank of the river and she could still feel that love, could still feel the darkness and see that indecipherable geometry behind her eyes. Her hands had been dipped in darkness and they did not hurt.

She was content.

Nina and the Darkness

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Nina stood by the river and stared and wondered if she feared to move, wondered if she feared to attract attention. Across the river, shielded by the thick canopy of the jungle was a shadow, was some patch of darkness, some piece of death that drifted, uncaring, through the world.

Nina stood by the river and she stared at it. She did not think that she was transfixed, did not think that she ought to get away. It did not drift toward her, after all, so she need not fear. Instead, she watched.

The darkness had never come this far from the Cradle before, not that Nina had heard of. They had never reached so far out of jungle like the dead of night. But here one was.

Nina could not help but compare the thing to the stories the refugees had told or roiling darkness, of things with uncountable tendrils, of the shapes, the people, the beasts that struggled within the darkness. This thing was little more than a cloud drifting along the ground.

She knew she needed to flee, she needed to get back to town to warn people. She knew that there was nothing she could do. And yet she stayed, and gazed upon the darkness and she wondered.

Finally, thankfully, the drifting darkness wafted toward the river, wafted toward where Nina stood on the banks, staring intently. She wondered what had changed its mind.

And she could not help but think of the stories the refugees had told, of people being swamped, being pulled into the darkness, being dissolved before their loved ones very eyes. She could not help but think of the destruction she had only heard about.

The cloud of darkness drifted through the dark jungle toward her, unhurried. Nina wondered what thoughts such a thing could have. She wondered what sense such a thing could have. Did it see her? Did it hear her mind? Did it sense her life?

When the cloud touched the water it did not waft or spread as mist might, its base turned to thousands of little tendrils, little legs that walked it over the wide river toward Nina.

Maybe she could see the shapes that thrashed within, maybe she could see the beasts and the people consumed by the darkness, and maybe she could only see geometric absurdity. Maybe there was nothing there but darkness.

Nina found herself almost surprised when the first tendrils of the darkness touched her, found herself almost surprised that it had come so close, moved so far. And she reached out her hands and the tendrils in their hundreds caressed her fingers and her palms and her wrists and her forearms.

She felt as if she were burning, felt as if she could see the whole of creation.

Nina stepped into the darkness, hands outstretched, eyes open and smile wide. And that impossible, imperceptible geometry consumed her, engulfed her, embraced her. And she could see.

Finally, she could see.

Coffee and romance

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Mara Dubois, who was taller than average and broader than average and more red-headed than average, sat at one of the outside tables at the Bean Counter and wished that she was still allowed to smoke in outside dining areas, even though it’d been years. Bo Carter, who was shorter than average and slimmer than average and black, which is really necessary information for the palette, and looking beautiful in his turquoise eye-shadow and puffy blueish blouse, was quite happy that Mara was no longer allowed to smoke at outdoor dining areas.

The siblings sat and hazily drank coffee and ate burgers and sadly found that a trip to the Coffee Grounds was not the hangover cure it had been when they were just a little bit younger.

‘It’s weird, right?’ Bo said, though a mouthful of burger.

Mara nodded and finished chewing before she answered. ‘What’s weird?’

‘You running into Krissy and her imprinting on your like a… sexy bird?’ Bo shrugged, then frowned. ‘I was going to say baby bird, but she clearly wants to bone you.’

‘And I her,’ Mara said. ‘But I have a boyfriend.’

Bo nodded. ‘I know I suggest this all the time, but have you considered breaking up with him so that you can bone Kris in a morally upstanding sort of way?’

Mara shrugged. ‘I don’t know that breaking up with Adam just so that I can fuck Kristen is morally upstanding,’ she said. ‘But either way I’m probably not going to do it.’

Bo nodded a lot, sipped his coffee. ‘But you’ve thought about it?’

‘Of course,’ Mara said. ‘Definitely the worst thing about being in a monogamous relationship is not being able to fuck whoever I want.’

Bo nodded a lot more. ‘I can imagine.’

‘Can you?’

Bo frowned and squinted into space for a moment. ‘Not really, no. But I can sympathise, empathise even.’

‘I feel like being aro would make things easier,’ Mara said. ‘Probably wouldn’t want to be ace, no offence.’

Bo shrugged. ‘It’s pretty good,’ he said.

A train went past and they ate in silence.

‘I just worry that she’s like… rebounding or whatever,’ Mara said.

‘I’m pretty sure she’s also bi, more into dudes than you from memory.’

‘I don’t mean that,’ Mara said. ‘Though that’s reassuring. I just mean she glommed onto me because I happened to be there right after she broke up with whatever his name is.’

Bo nodded a bunch more. ‘Yeah, obviously,’ he said.

‘Even if I didn’t have a boyfriend, I would worry that I’d be taking advantage of her or whatever, you know?’ Mara said.

‘She’s like a year younger than you at most, darling,’ Bo said. ‘You’re both adults.’

‘Sure, but she’s emotionally fucked up,’ Mara said. ‘Doesn’t matter anyway, what with the monogamy and everything.’

Bo scrutinised Mara for several seconds. ‘I get it,’ he proclaimed. ‘You like her in a regular way too. You care about her feelings and her long-term emotional wellbeing and everything.’

Mara waved the idea away. ‘Pshaw, it’s just that she’s hot.’

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