“There is a moment in every dawn when light floats, there is a possibility of magic. Creation holds its breath.”
-- Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Smoke spirals up from the small camp of refugees hitchhiking on the back of another world. From this far away, they really looked quite small.
Little pieces of ash float. The light filters hazily down from hundreds of skies, held together like so many pieces of broken glass. Bellacoste and Andras were up there, too, if you only looked hard enough.
Time ticks backwards. How many weeks has it been now?
They’ve lost count.
It was Avalon’s turn to guard their camp. Every night-- or what they decided was night in the perplexing twilight-- they took shifts. In all of the pendulous days they had not run into another living soul, but Axel complained intermittently of apparitions. She wasn’t sure if she believed in all that, but their young charge Tiny seemed to believe the vespire, so begrudgingly she sets up for another lonely watch.
Axel’s ghosts, as always, fail to appear. The Old King and spectres on two legs he complained of never came for her. The vespire would bump his head against Tiny’s, and late at night they would talk of Andras’ villains. The vespire said he’d seen them, too. The farmer listened with mild interest, but whatever foe they saw she was blind to. Nothing haunted her peripheral vision.
Perhaps it was for the best. One of them needed to retain their sanity and strength, right? Whatever had happened to Axel and Tiny had left them seeming shockingly frail to the plucky. Perhaps that’s what the corruption did to you, even once it healed? Thank the stars she’d held her own back.
Someone has to keep them safe was the last thought Avalon had before her fatigue caught up with her. Heavy eyelids close and the plucky drifts off to sleep.
“FALL BACK!” King Ericius shouts, a lance of magic spearing another creature as it slips from the rift. “WE HAVE TO DO IT NOW! GIVE IT EVERYTHING!”
Dozens of capricorns swarm the rift, their collective magic sweeping over the pulsing wound and strangling it. It burns, the water bubbling as the ocean boils. The heat washes towards them even as the king forces them back. It was now or never.
“FOR AEQUOR!” Naia rallies, the crowd echoes her roar. The rift fights back, cooking the water around it and pushing out unbearable heat, even at a distance. Together, through sheer power of will, the denizens of Bellacoste face fate and tell it No, I don’t think so. Not today.
As their souls rush towards the rift, the collective will of Bellacoste constricts in a dizzying array of color. Together they stare down the barrel of the heat death of everything they love and they tell it again, No.
This isn’t how our story ends.
In that moment, their souls shone so bright, like scattered stars on the backdrop of the infinite universe.
The rift stabilizes.
The water cools down.
“Did we do it?” somelon asks breathlessly.
We certainly did.
A guard hurries along the halls of Andras’ highest security prison, stopping to huff and puff and wipe his brow before taking off again at a sprint. He slaps the lockdown alarm as he runs, sending Arcton into high alert. Alarms blast as doors lock and gates come crashing down.
“WHAT THE HELLS IS HAPPENING?” bellows a lookout as the guard sprints past.
“THEY’VE ESCAPED,” the guard calls back, doubling over and wheezing. “All, all three,”
“A-... Arcanum’s dogs,” spits the guard after a moment. The lookout stares breathlessly before she smashes her fist down on her own alarm.
The news gets out, despite their efforts to stop it.
Tooth, Tail and Nail were nowhere to be found.
Far to the north, an expedition pushes forward through the snow. The news travels fast, but not fast enough to catch the intrepid explorers. Nikyaks carve paths through the drifts, but the most treasured cargo is held by Queen Asajj herself-- a single Lunar Flower. The flowers had proven effective against the strange swarm destroying their crops and their livelihoods.
Sadly, it was rare-- and with precious few blooms, they had thus far been unable to turn the tide. The logical next step was to find the source-- something she trusted few to do, and so with a determined set to her jaw she set out herself.
A small contingency forges their way through the mountains far north of Ur-Bahn, the fire licking along the queen’s horns and lighting the way. Her guard Kilau sticks close by, eyes shifting towards the small woolyne riding upon the nearest nikyak.
Titan had insisted on coming, despite their protests. The child had gone so far as to stow away in their supplies, and when discovered, it was far too late to send him away. It couldn’t be helped, Asajj sighed. Of course the boy was distraught, with Tiny missing. They’d all seen the posters.
“Getting close to Myrrka,” two tagalongs murmur to one another. “Surely she wouldn’t take us all the way there?” whispers one. “Those lands are cursed,” scoffs another.
“I didn’t take you all for being so superstitious! Don’t believe those fairy tales,” the Queen calls back. “Eyes on the prize,” Kilau grunts, gesturing at the crack shooting through the sky before them.
It shouldn’t have an end, but the lights play against the flurries, golden and violet.
The rift almost sneaks up on them, shrouded as it was in the snow. The expedition gathers in its glow, just south of the deadlands its members had so feared.
Titan nearly slips past them, diving for the glittering jewel-- if he’d been a little quicker, he would have certainly made it, but Kilau sweeps the child up, holding him in her arms as he begins to sob.
“Tiny’s in there,” Titan wails, “I know it, I know it, I just know it.”
“Shhh,” the guard whispers. “We’ll go. But you can’t go without us.”
The kitten curls his fingers in the heavy fur of the queensguard and nods his head silently.
The rift beckons, unflinchingly.
A hand closing over Avalon’s mouth wakes her with a start. A husky, feminine voice warns, “Don’t scream,” as the pouflon realizes she’s restrained. The plucky thrashes and a lighter, masculine voice chides, “Did you have to be so threatening about it, Tejat?”
Avalon’s eyes roll wildly, trying to see beyond the violet arm holding her head down. Her captor grunts with annoyance at the second voice, and after a moment a hoof hits her periphery. A dark unicorn lowers his head, glittering eyes sizing her up for a moment before he smiles, assumedly to calm her down. What a shame it wasn’t working!
“Don’t be afraid,” the masculine voice-- so this was him-- soothes. “We just didn’t want you alarming your friends before we could talk to you. Fell asleep on watch, huh? I get it, it’s really boring out here.”
Avalon glares, struggling under the impossible weight of the accomplice on top of her. The unicorn sighs, looking past her. “Tejat, could you let her go? It’s not like she can hurt us.” He pauses. “Look, we’re here by accident just like you! We already have something in common. No need to treat each other like enemies, is there--”
“AH!,” Tejat shouts, pulling her hand away. Avalon spits and bucks, throwing the second assailant off her back. “IT BIT ME,” she hisses. The unicorn’s ears lay back and he reaches a hoof out as if to soothe Avalon. “...We really don’t mean you any harm, I’m sorry, Tejat can be kind of…”
Avalon snorts and lowers her head, ramming full force into the unicorn and bowling him over. So much for diplomacy! “AXEL! TINY!” the plucky cries, bucking her legs before running full tilt back towards the camp. There she found a similar scene-- a two legged creature like Tiny, a woolyne, and another unicorn.
Their colors were swapped.
“Shit,” the woolyne with the masculine voice swipes his hand down his face. “Tejat, I *told* you this was a stupid idea.”
The violet unicorn tosses her head and stares defiantly across the smothered campfire at Avalon. Then, she shrugs. “Fine, do it your way.”
The black and teal woolyne immediately plops on his butt, right between a startled Tiny and Axel. He snaps his fingers and the magical gags holding their tongues dissipates. “This looks bad, doesn’t it. Look, I’m defenseless, so you don’t have to worry.” He holds his hands out, palms empty. “No weapons. We just want to talk.”
He looks sidelong at the violet pouflon before very purposefully patting the ground beside him, sending up a puff of ash. “Why don’t we all just… sit down and relax, have a little chat? Okay? Okay.”
Bewildered, Tiny and Axel look at Avalon-- and not at her, but behind her. The unusual woolyne beckons. “You, too. All three of you.”
Avalon startles, looking behind her. There were the other two-- mirror images of the ones at the fire. What the hell was going on?!
“You must be confused-- listen, I get it. It’s really confusing! I’m Jishui…” the woolyne jerks a thumb at the violet pouflon. “That’s Tejat…” he points at the violet woolyne, “THAT’S Tejat… and…” finally he shrugs helplessly at the black and teal unicorn, “That’s Jishui.”
“What the heck,” Tiny mouths. Axel shrugs at him as Avalon begrudgingly joins them at the remains of the fire. She remains standing, stamping a hoof and flicking her tail nervously.
“I was surprised, when I saw your fire,” the pouflon Jishui says just behind her right shoulder. “It was very helpful, actually, led us right to you. We didn’t think anyone else was here.”
Woolyne Jishui nods, stroking his chin. “Maybe they’re locals, I said to Tejat. But of course, nothing lives here anymore.” The violet woolyne-- Tejat-- inspects her bite wound before crossing her arms with a huff. “So I was wondering, actually, just how the three of you got here?”
“Why should we tell you?” Avalon snips back. “Appearing in the middle of the night and accosting us, why would we--”
“Avalon,” Axel says quietly, eyes averted. The pouflon immediately stops, looking at the vespire. His claws fiddle with a piece of charcoal. “I think…” he says, slow, ponderous, like he’s pulling the words out of his throat, “...I think it’s okay.”
The plucky huffs before she slowly sits down, staring hard at the strangers. Jishui sits next to her, and Jishui smiles at her from across the firepit. Why did they have the same name? What was going on?!
“You’re wondering what’s going on!” the woolyne Jishui claps his hands together. “So are we, actually! How long have you three been here?”
Tiny pipes up, cradling Teeny in their hands, “...A few weeks? We aren’t totally sure…”
At Avalon’s shoulder, the pouflon Jishui nods, peering intently across at woolyne Jishui. “...Are you from the same world?”
“Are we… what?” Avalon grumbles. “No, we’re from Bellacoste, Tiny’s from…”
“...Andras,” Tiny adds, brows furrowing. “Are you from…?”
“Interesting! Interesting. No, we’re from--” pouflon Jishui starts, but before he can finish he winces in pain, glaring sidelong at woolyne Tejat who had unceremoniously stomped on his tail. “Is that necessary?” he hisses, and she waves a hand at him.
“Is this necessary?” she replies. “They clearly don’t know anything, so I’m not sure how this little interrogation of yours is meant to help.”
“It’s not an interrogation! It’s like… an interview, at best,” the woolyne Jishui sighs. “So you were pulled here somehow from two different worlds. Tejat, don’t you see? It’s happening again.”
Both Tejats glare, malevolence wafting from them in spades. Jishui’s ears fold back against his head and he spreads his arms plaintively. “What Tejat doesn’t want me to tell you is that we’re in danger here-- and so are your worlds. See, Tejat? This involves them too, why shouldn’t they know?”
“Do what you want,” the violet pouflon flicks her tail impatiently. “I hope your little pets are able to help you.”
Avalon whips her head towards the woolyne Tejat and snaps her teeth again, pointedly. “Run along then!” She looks back to Jishui-- well, between the Jishuis. “What do you mean we’re in danger? Is Bellacoste…”
Jishui arcs his eyebrows, shrugging his shoulders at Tejat before flicking his hand in a wave. “Still there, so far as we can tell. There’s a rift about…” the pouflon Jishui squints before finishing the thought, “40 clicks west. And another to the east, that must be yours?”
Tiny sits up straighter. “There’s a way back?”
“Yes and no,” Tejat mutters.
“...What she means is that… well, there is, but they aren’t stable. We could use your help, you should be able to attune yourself to them-- it’s, well,” he waves his hands, “...complicated. I could explain, or we could set out now. If we hurry we could get it done by morning, and who knows, maybe you can all go home.”
Tiny leaps to their feet as Avalon protests to deaf ears, “What do you mean maybe!”
“Magic, I’ve found, if we can call it that, is never a sure thing,” the Jishui by her side says quietly, and when she looks over at him she was surprised to see kindness in his eyes. “Let’s split up in groups then, shall we? Bellacoste and Andras?”
“Bellacoste and Andras,” Axel agrees.
They take a chance, trusting their strange new companions. The trio ventures with Jishui and Tejat into the night, and just before dawn they arrive at the edge of the universe. Avalon and Axel stand at the eastern precipice, Tiny at the western.
“You’re the keys,” Jishui explained on the way. “If we use you as a conduit, I believe we can bridge the gap between the worlds, and if we’re lucky, that means you can go home.”
It didn’t feel real. None of this did. As they stood at the end of everything, Axel looks into the abyss. This world was crumbling. It had always felt dead, but here on the edge they could see that all that was left of this place was the husk, and even the husk was deteriorating. Avalon calls to him, and though the vespire hesitates for a moment, he comes away from the rim.
“This may sting,” Jishui warns. “But it won’t kill you. Are you ready?”
At opposite ends of the deadlands, Avalon, Axel and Tiny nod.
The twins join hands, and together their power flows through the conduits. Jishui had been right. It did sting. It hurt as the corruption had, tearing through their insides and robbing them of their voice.
It doesn’t last long, their bleary eyes clearing as the pain ebbs. The rifts, once jagged and obscure, now looked like smooth mirrors. Avalon and Axel look on in awe as Aequor appears to them.
Tiny, on the other hand…
“TITAN,” the woolyne cries, holding their hands out as Andras reaches back for them. Titan, hearing his name, squirms free of Kilau and sprints for the portal, jumping through and straight into Tiny.
The pair fall to the ground, embracing each other as tears wet their cheeks. Jishui looks down at them before commenting to Tejat, “Looks like it worked.”
The way was open.
SKYFALL ♊︎ BEGINS N̵O̴W̷.̵ BEWARE-- D̷O̶ ̵N̴O̵T̴ ̸T̷O̸U̶C̴H̴ ̵T̸H̵E̵ ̵C̵O̸R̸R̷U̴P̸T̶I̸O̸N̸.̴
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