They say he did it because he asked to sit by an innkeeper’s fire one night and was denied with a lie. The innkeeper said that there was “not enough fire” to warm the man who was dressed in rags and filth. He appeared to be a beggar, but he was not a beggar. He was a warlock. And he was none too pleased by the innkeeper’s response. It was no surprise that he should cast a curse. What was surprising was that he did not just cast the curse on the innkeeper himself, but on the innkeeper’s entire country.
For generations, for nearly a century, the Rofotou family had been gathering the pieces of a puzzle that they believed would unlock some grand secret of the universe, or some extravagant treasure, or at least some profound piece of wisdom. But I didn’t know anything about that before a dark-haired woman named Red came knocking on my door one day. I didn’t know why she asked to see my old dream logs. And I certainly didn’t know what any of it had to do with Mrs. Highweather.
“How long has it been…since I closed my eyes?” I asked.
The medical technician sitting beside my cot offered me a business-like smile and said, “Just about thirty-seven minutes.”
I frowned. It had felt longer to me. Almost two hours. I had a crick in my neck. The cot wasn’t very comfortable. They didn’t want me to accidentally fall asleep. I sat up and swung my legs around so I was sitting at the edge of the cot.
“Is there such a thing as hallucinogenic moss?”
Seyyal raised her brows as she asked the question, and watched her cousin’s fork freeze in mid-air. They were having their usual monthly brunch and catching up with each other. And Seyyal had already somewhat updated Yalanda about the subject that had been occupying her mind since she’d gotten back from vacation, her left foot.
Three major things will happen to me over the course of the coming year. I’ll meet someone. I’ll think he’s wonderful. He won’t be. That’s the first thing. Second, I’ll break my arm in a cowardly attempt to flee from my own responsibilities. And third, I’ll serve on the crew of the most extravagant ship to ever sail the nine seas, the Glorious.
How do I know these things will happen?
Because I told myself they would in a letter…a letter that was meant for a future me two years from now, and somehow ended up being delivered to the current me.
I glanced at the clean white bandage wrapped around her left hand and a good ways down her wrist.
“It’s going to be all right,” I said. “I’m here to help.”
The steely-eyed woman sitting across from me in the booth gave a single nod. She wasted no time on small talk and launched straight into her first question.
“The Axiom Enchiridion, ever heard of it?”
“There’s something weird in the backyard.”
“What is it?”
Reena walked over to the kitchen window, which overlooked their backyard. She stood next to her husband and they both stared at the unexpected visitor strutting to and fro in their yard.
When the alarm went off, the soft music and chirping birds growing louder and louder, Audrey already knew that it was far, far too late.
When the young woman appeared, garbed in robes of green and a wide belt of scarlet, the two treasure-seekers understood at once that she was the temple guardian. And they did not hesitate to approach her.
“Greetings, travelers,” the temple guardian said. “Give me your names.”
The two treasure-seekers gave her their names freely.
She did not return their offer of names, nor did she return their smiles.
“Turn back, travelers,” the temple guardian said, her voice calm and measured. “Go no further than the spot where I now stand.”
The Shifting Night Anomaly was so called at first because its margins seemed to change every so often, making it difficult, if not impossible, to map. We had sent probe after probe inside for three generations. Out of the near thousand probes that were deployed, only forty-seven were recovered. The more we learned about the anomaly, the more we realized how fitting the name was. There were no systems and no stars within, only remnants of dead worlds. Only strange and exotic gases. Only nebulas haunted by the ghosts of stars that flickered and faded before they could burst into life.