A Good Day In Eternity

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tagnone

12

12


The wind was turning west, and the fire of the eternal suns glimmered on the horizon, the glare softened by the foggy blue haze that drifted over the flats. Even in a timeless land where the suns are always fixed in twilight (except when it was night, of course), a good wind meant a good omen. The Golrad Worms were sleeping in their muddy holes, all silent but for the trees.

It would be a good day.

She didn’t know why she thought that, though she supposed it didn’t matter. A Fixer needn’t know the why, just the how. Things always were that way.

Pulling up her mottled robes, she clambered slowly onto the flatboat, setting down her beloved lantern ever so carefully on the crooked deck. The boat swayed and shuddered, but it knew better than to tip Old Basha. Picking up the steering-pole, she pushed off the moss-covered shore, driving the raft steadily out of its root-lined dock out and into the wide flats of the Ever-mere for yet another round of Gathering.

For a space left so ravaged by old wars and empty battles between angels and gods alike, the Ever-mere had captured in it a strange beauty that Basha knew better than to take for granted. Even for someone who had seen as much as her, the ability of a halfway-space to recover so readily after desecration was a marvel to Basha, a miracle even.

She would take sentience while it lasted. It was better than the alternative.

A night-bird called out, freeing her from thought.

Looking up, she saw the pretty thing, its seven wings buffeted by the open breeze. It was a Shadow-seeker, one of the many beings that had come to roost in the bogs she called home. It was searching for frogs.

“This is good,” she said to herself, almost absently to fill the void of silence. "This is normal."

Taking a breath of air, she paddled further, her old lantern illuminating the cold expanse of the meres1 around her. The sullen pines so characteristic of the empty plain poked like tall sentinels from their mossy thrones, creaking this way and that in the wind. The old bog stretches out as it always has, the light of her lantern piercing the cold null of eventide.

“This is good.”

For a while, she lost herself in memory, something she had not afforded herself to in a long, long while.

It was truly beautiful.

In her reverie2, she failed to notice the gathering husks on the shore to either side. An old hunk of metal half-gold went her way, almost hitting the raft's edge.

Plonk.

She turned and glared at the offender.

Oh.

It's them.

The bog-dancers were out today, old grudges still burned in their hearts for the role she had played in the Elder Days. Black, pitiful things they were, all faceless and slimy, shadows of their former selves. They always were so restless; with no hand to guide them after the War, the poor creatures grew poorer, their skeletal bodies frailer and weaker as the years waned on…

Her heart broke, but she would not give them what they wanted. They were fools to try to do this again.

The angels of light would never be activated. Not after what happened.

“You know my answer,” she said in a tired, tired voice. “It’s the same every time.”

They screamed and gaggled anyway, half wheezing in the dying light.

“Your old gods won’t come back here. I sealed the exits. I’m sorry you’re so tortured, but I can’t do it.”

World-Ender, they whispered. World-taker.

"Yeah yeah, whatever."

She made a sign with her hands, and blew into the lantern. A shower of sparks blew out towards the bog-dancers, sending them running away in the cold.

Exhuming voices.

“Shoo. I have work to do.”

Pleased when she could tell they had finally fled, she muttered meaningless things to herself and set the lantern down on the raft, pushing off into the haze yet again. Bog-lights and old wisps, remnants of the older world, popped up one by one to light her path.

"Hullo, old wisps."

They quivered with every paddle of her pole.

"I didn't mean to offend."

They gurgled in worry. Oh, not her.

"They were out earlier than they should today, weren't they? I'll have to keep an eye out."

The path grew brighter.

"Thank you."

She carried on for a while through the flats relatively unhindered but for the occasional Shadow-seekers or scuttling crabs, steering clear of the Cysts left over from Foundation. Should she even find trouble, why would she fear?

She had her lantern lit, after all.

Before long she was humming softly an old tune, one she didn't know she remembered:

Oh, where were you when the fires burned aloft
The wheels turned and turned and the Angels shed their cloth
Oh, where were you when they shattered that old Sun
The shadows torn the waters shorn the world made to run
Oh-

“There you are!” she exclaimed.

The shuddering ruin of what once was the first of the Great Wheels loomed before her, its fused gargantuan mass of wheels and shut Eyes drinking in the light around it.

The war had left many empty engines and shattered things staining the landscape that even the green of the growing bogs could not cover.

This was one of them.

On the higher places atop the golden axles of the wheel she could see no empty perches thereon, but rather a host of gathering shadows, thousands-strong, milling about the rim: the bog-dancers were out, trying and failing to sing the Eyes awake. Painful songs, more howls than anything lyrical, echoed through the empty structures, old memories made real by the lost souls singing them.

She could empathise with them, though.

It was a fruitless quest, but they did it anyway. In that way, they were much like her: lost husks of a past that had existed and then fell away, trapped in a moment in time where nothing changes but the growing bog that would one day swallow them all.

She stopped the raft, setting the steering-pole aside. Taking up her lantern, she clambered over the mossy mounds of the shore up to an old port, a window into one of the great god-hands that had been so devastating in the wars that ravaged her land.

A shriek. Looking up, she saw the bog-dancers clambering down the massive Eye-dotted spokes towards her. Sighing, she raised her lantern.

“What did I tell you? Shoo!”

Another series of sparks, and they retreated.

“Silly creatures. You should know better.”

She shook her fist above her. They’ll never learn, will they?

Licking her fingers, she made a sign on the port. Old technology glowed scarlet in the muted world, opening up at the command of an old master. Fiddling with fingers that had made mountains crumble in the Elder Days, she set herself to work removing the moss that had crept into the ancient thing, fixing the wiring with her arts where she could.

The bog-dancers cried out mournfully, but she carried on even as her cold heart crumbled.

They couldn’t wake up. She had to be certain.

A final click, and the light of the machine receded, dormant once more.

Five more to check.

Thus, yet again she set out over the wastes, lantern beside her and pole in hand, drifting through the empty world.

The wails echoed on but still she went, and soon the first Great Wheel was gone, another forgotten thing left behind in her voyage through the endless mires.

Occasionally in the peat3 she poked this way and that with the steering-pole, in some half-baked curiosity she had long-since given up trying to quell.

She knew it was foolish, a guilty pleasure she didn’t deserve to have, but that didn’t mean anything. Sometimes she found things, after all: spare parts, old machines, lost things that had fallen in from the realities around them. Even then, sometimes… she found someone she could talk to, for a while as well.

Those were the best finds. Reminders of an older time, a far better one than she lived in now, before she was left alone but for the shadows of memory and angry bog-dancers.

She went to two other Wheels, not a bog-dancer in sight, before she chose to retire for the day, her task half-done.

She had found nothing unfortunately, so there was little of interest to warrant her staying up much longer. Though the time was unchanging, even she found it hard to carry on in the endless quiet of a dead world. She had to rest.

Cutting some rush-piths4, she fed the light of her lantern, warming her weathered hands as the wind died. Soon there was nothing but her, her little flame, and the whispers of sleepless beings in the shadows, clawing pitifully for her to notice them.

Silly Bog-Dancers.

They didn’t scare her. They hadn't before, and they wouldn't now.

She was the Fixer, after all.

Sitting down, she nestled under the roots of a knotted pine, its grey bark eaten away by old moss and lichen. The perfect bed!

Finally, she smiled.

Though things were stranger than normal, it had been a good day.

And here's for a better tomorrow.

Two taps on the bark, then it happened.

The light went out.


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