Varn

A Good Day In Eternity « Varn » A Gift

tagnone

11

11


Black bled to black, Night to night. A flash, and Basha woke, depthless eyes wide and white in the growing shade.

A hand was before her, a boney, gnarled thing half rotted from the bog-spread. It was half on her lantern already, hungry for the unlit Source inside. Distant shapes moved behind it, bobbing this way and that among the dry trees.

Bog-dancers.

They’d almost taken the Source.

She couldn’t let that happen.

Picking up the steering pole from its perch in the roots next to her, she edged closer, close enough to see the shadowy thing reaching for her beloved possession. The familiar faceless visage before her, all six boney arms and hunched back splayed out, told her enough. Her brow creased in worry.

The bog-dancers were getting more intelligent.

“This is not good,” she muttered worriedly, readying the pole in her hand. “This is not good at all.”

She whacked the sorry thing on the head, hoping to drive it off. Instead, it only turned to her, hissing breezily in defiance. Basha would have none of it, though.

“Don’t come this close again, do you hear me! I am the Fixer. I am Law.

Scuttling in the dark, dry breaths. If her old judgement was anything to go by, Basha would wager there were nigh fifty hiding on the boggy isle.

I do hope the raft is fine.

“Stay back!” She cried out.

It did not listen, grip tightening in on the lantern, though it did not move from its place. Basha sighed. Exasperated, she reached out to touch the thing’s forehead.

“I will fix you. You are sick.”

Whispering hollow sounds in the night air to the shaking creature, Basha breathed into its faceless face, melting in darkness. She breathed into the depths of the shattered soul before her, so lost and distant from whatever it might have been before Foundation. Inside it there was nothing but desire for a master, some replacement for the yearning left behind for the one that had taken, broken, and rebuilt it aeons ago, never to return.

Basha had never fixed a bog-dancer before. Maybe it would work.

Or maybe it would die. An experiment, no?

She pushed into the thing, her hands reaching into its ruined flesh. She would fix it.

It shuddered, freezing in place. Basha smiled; she felt her power in it. She knew then that it had worked.

She was the Fixer, after all.

“Wake up,” she commanded, jabbing a finger again into its rotting folds.

It turned jerkily towards her, sticking out her lantern as if it were poison. Grasping the handle, Basha stood tall, smiling.

“Thank you. I think I like you already.” She turned to the wider night. “As for you lot, Hrumph! Get out! I may not have a lantern lit, but do not forget Old Basha’s power.”

The other skulking creatures shuddered and murmured, moving off into the night. Grumpy things.

She turned back to her newfound friend. The bog-dancer stood lopsided, limbs half-dangled to the ground as it awaited instruction.

Not ideal, but it might be nice to have a companion again.

“Come, you. Let’s go.”

The raft was as she left it, thankfully. She sniffed in the air, the faint smell of burning flesh wafting in the distance.

The lightning was out in the Rimlands, then.

Pushing off the shambled shore, Basha set out into the meres. The bog dancer shambled along next to her, moving doggedly across the surface of the black pools.

“I’m sorry, my friend. I have no space on my raft, not that you need it anyhow.”

In the distance, the old shadows of the Great Wheels blot the horizon, shambled spheres looming black against the shattered sky.

She could not go there, though it was her day-time task. No, the Night would not lift until the Spear’s sixth circle burns blue.

The night could not lift if the lantern was not lit. There were more things than bog-dancers that lurked in the shadows, and should she wish to complete her task as Fixer, she would need another Source.

Basha had to move.

Faint shrieks echoing behind her, she spurned the raft quick against the wind, accompanied now only by her new friend and intuition as she made to leave the Ever-Meres and go out into the Rimlands beyond. Behind, the old wheel-shadows grew smaller and smaller, until finally they disappeared entirely, covered by scraggly pine-shapes and rotting wood.

The bog-dancer beside her wheezed softly.

The trees never stopped creaking.


They had been paddling on for a while now, the central mass of the Ever-meres a distant memory. There's less moss now, and even less firm ground. The more they paddled, the more the land was quickly becoming one large lake all around her, depthless and cold. To either side on the faint horizon, pockets of cloud over the mere mark ancient blood-waters now bled into the light of night, old remnants of forgotten gods that no longer had any power here beyond the weapons they left behind. Bygone laughs and shouts echoed in the mist, imprints that she knew were but the land’s memory of the Elder Days, but real all the same.

The lightning-balls crackled and gleamed, sending fires into the darkness. Though they were far away, Basha would still have to be careful. Still, her new friend walked beside her. It had listened to her every command, until now.

She saw it before she heard it.

The luminous thing protruded from the water like a ghostly globe, ridges running across it like a spider’s web in morning. There were many entrances, many holes that punctured it, each covered with a dripping slime. Around it, the water was roiling, churning, drying up and falling back as if time itself was in flux.

Of course, that was exactly the case.

The Urka-Raga did not make their nests without purpose.

Unfortunately, this was the only place where Basha could hope to ever find the Source she needed.

The bog-dancer flitted behind its master in what Basha could only assume was ancient programming by the Maker, something she could not Fix. A wild, keening call let out into the night, vague scuttling shapes moving from behind the green-lit membrane of the nest, roving this way and that.

They are feeding tonight, Basha thought, humming to herself. This will be difficult.

Once well-kept on a leash by their former maker, entities bred for an ancient war, the Urka-Raga did not know life or death any longer. They only knew hunger, for that was what they were made.

Though Basha had walked through their forgotten worlds long before the Spear had been fired and the Founding set, she did not know them any longer.

She did not fear them, either.

In the past, they had cared for her wealth, her knowledge, her old songs. In the past, they had hosted her in their old galaxies, their halls of stardust wreathed across time.

Now, they were yet another example of how the War had broken them all. They would not care for singing.

Carefully mooring the boat outside the shifting water, she acknowledged her friend at last.

“You can stay outside. I know you were not made for this.”

Though she knew it had no feeling nor emotion and listened to her every command, she almost wishfully imagined it grateful. It made her feel better.

She drew up her steering-pole, slamming it into the shivering water. What was once liquid and lost was now firm, frozen for a while in a half-state. She quickly hurried across, latching onto the side of the mottled nest, the bulbous mass heaving under the weight of her. Edging slowly, she found one of the many fissures that led into the nest.

One, two, three…

She slammed the stick again into the film of the opening, revealing the endless hollows beyond.

They’ve burrowed long into this one.

She was in a passage of some kind, one of the heart-rooms that ran to the centre of the colony, an echo of the Orrery they were doomed to copy forever. She would not find what she sought there.

Taking a left, she found herself in a set of smaller passages. Distant shrieks, half-mournful, drove her to as much of a jog her weathered body could afford. They had found her tear. She only had limited time.

Another turn. Down the passage before her was a beating glow, harsh and yellow.

Yes, yes…

Scuttling. Shadows moved in the walls around her. They were searching, spinning, seeking.

A rumble.

Hungry, too.

She tore open the wall with her steering-pole, revealing her quarry: a honeycomb of protected eggs, half encased by slime long since excreted from the folding glands of a loving parent, or… In season, too.

Her hands lay upon the closest egg. Inside, the faintest wriggle of a tiny segmented shape was the only indication of the life that would have come from it.

It was enough.

Stuffing it in her robes, Basha hobbled back to the exit of the egg-room. Suddenly, a piercing shriek resounded off the burrow’s walls, and the familiar dotted white face of a mother Urk erupted into view, features half melted from feeding. The segmented wormlike tail whipped this way and that as it burst through the roof, scuttling legs splayed. Its spinners were still trailing, old seams of time not yet fully fashioned dangling off the ends as its wails grew louder, more frantic.

More broken. More lost.

Basha could not go quietly, anymore; neither could she stay.

I’m so sorry, my old friends.

She was halfway down the nearest passage when the flux occurred. The entire nest rotated and shifted, walls changing and closing in as pus oozed from the cracks, sending her flying back the way she came. The old way was shut.

They did not want her to leave.

Taking it in stride, she turned quickly… right into the maws of a male, half drunk on one of the many seams that filled the nest’s shallow walls.

She took a silent breath. She could not let this stop her from her task.

Jumping off the wall just in time as its jaws snapped, she ran down the hall, the echoing screeches and groans behind her sending shivers down the tunnel, the floor quaking. The Urka-Raga, if they were as they were created, were likely trying to block her exit.

Trying, at the very least.

The keening became louder, more frequent. She tore a hole in the nearest wall, the temporal sea shifting and shaking in the night.

She had escaped.

A deep breath. She took the Source out of her pocket. It would be enough.

With one last look back behind her, she made off into the night, lantern lit once more.

It would be enough.

The Urk’s lament did not go unnoticed by Basha, though.

Later, as the sixth cycle turned and the lights came back, she sat down slowly, hand clenched on her chest with little company but a husk she barely knew as witness to watch her do what she hadn’t done for aeons.

Tears built in her, but she forced them down, knuckles white against the lantern's cold embrace. Her eyes hardened.

A Fixer could not afford to cry anyway.


After that night balance was restored, life made normal once more. With a new friend, the bog-dancers daren’t try as they did again, though she still felt them quivering, waiting for a moment of power they could never have. Basha made her rounds once, then twice, then many times more, her new companion always beside her.

She called it Varn. She liked the name, though she could not remember where she had heard it first.

That didn't matter, anyhow.

The days passed to weeks, the weeks to years, the years to eternity. The bog grew wilder, the denizens more weary and shadowed as timelessness ate at their being. Still, Basha Fixed. It was all she could do, her task set by the maker.

One day, the time came to visit the nexus, the Spear at the centre of it all.

She took a deep breath.

She would be ready.


The familiar shapes of Sentinels clouded the land before her in a black haze as the trees thinned; they were old things, dark, faceless bodies of countless species all hand-picked by the Maker, forever frozen in nigh-worship of the object before her.

They were all Chosen, after all. The Maker left nothing to chance in the Elder Days.

All except one. The Orrery had found that one.

The Orrery had sent it far away, a last burst of power.

She shivered.

Past the old Sentinels she steered, the bog turning to lake until all was a sheet of glass in the shaded evening. She left Varn behind her. It was no place for his kind to be in the presence of something of such power.

In the midst of it all, she saw it: the Spear.

An ancient thing of storied might and intimate construction, it jut out of the lake like a tooth, an impossible work by an Older Being. The intricate designs that snaked their way up it, of suns and stars and shadows, older gods wrought of bone and flesh half-carved, seemed to move slowly as she looked, ever-changing. The winding wheel at its top turned and turned, the reflection piercing a sun into the empty lands around her.

Even the Maker didn’t craft it, not entirely. It had been stolen, reshaped, reformed. Just like the Wheels that had powered it, back when there were ten Laws that ruled, not one. Back before the Maker had chained them all.

It was on the first cycle. There was enough time for her to do as she would. She started paddling, when a voice suddenly spoke behind her.

“Hello, Flame-Bringer.”

It was cold, wet, stilted, old. She knew it deep in her, though she could not place it yet. When she turned, she saw nothing but a speck on the shore behind her, a white glimmer amid Sentinels.

“Not many call me such anymore, for I am just the Fixer. Come, let me go to you, so that I may see you.”

She paddled back to shore. As she drew closer, she saw it: segmented, white, many legs, gnawing at the moss below it. An isopod. An Aaru.

An old friend.

“You?! I have not seen your kind since before the Foundation, the Great Arrow not yet set. I thought Aaru did not leave their packs?”

It clicked, scuttling onto her raft and rearing on its hind legs.

“We have been… searching. Spreading. This one has come to you.”

“Still looking, aren’t you. Have you found your answer yet?”

“Nothing you would not already know. But that is not important.”

They stood silent for a while. Basha set down her lantern on the raft-floor, and picked up the little creature, setting it on her shoulder.

The Golrad worms were out, and even now she saw the bog-dancers in the shadows.

“Come. Let’s talk someplace safer.”

With that, she paddled off, the old Spear left once again to the wayside. She would fix it to-morrow, anyway.


She encamped on her favourite isle once more, the mournful calls of the Golrad worms booming in the twilight air. The lantern flickered. The Aaru peered about, this way and that, waiting, searching. Its feelers wiggled.

Basha sighed. It seemed she would have to talk first.

Vain Creatures.

“You are not one body anymore, I see.”

“We are not physically one, no. We are all places now, all times.”

“I see,” she said softly, taking a sip of oil. “Whom do I speak to now?”

“The we. That is not important. We are here as messenger. Something has happened.”

Now that interested Basha. The pines creaked.

"Is the Maker returning?”

“The Maker still moves, though you still rot here as they left you.”

It squealed, the strange bout of distaste evident in its reaction. Basha sighed.

“You are small creatures. You do not understand why I Fix.”

“We are bigger now than when you knew us, but that is not necessary to state.” It clicked thrice, continuing. “It does not matter to us what the Maker turned you into, only what you were. You were the ALL, the Everything, the bringer of Flame and the Heart of Thunder. You served One greater as the endless seas were foundered and chained, long before any Tower washed to shore, long before the ones after your kind usurped what was and is and called the old Nothing. And now you are a shadow. A husk. The we looks on you in sadness.”

Basha’s hand clenched around the lantern, her eyes rising to the trees around them.

“I fix things.”

“We know it hurts you. Not this shell, but who you were before being lost in the waves of the Arrow. This is… unsound for one of your kind, to have been buried and chained like this. We know it hurts you still. It is proven not to hurt, should this one bring you to our centre.” It pauses, legs moving to stabilise its plated form. “We could take you. We could free you from these chains, your knowledge in us so that you would finally rest. The One might know you, and the One might finally come back to see what the Laws have turned this reality into. You could sleep.

“… No. I cannot. I must fix things. Unless the bog-dancers… “

“The Eyes would open. What then? Another reality is nothing but a benefit, a… boon. More knowledge. More time to see the end of things. More time to find meaning.”

Basha chuckled.

“You Aaru always seemed to like to uncover the secrets of things.”

A bird of many colours sung in water far away. The Aaru spoke again, its voice laden yet again with hostility.

“You would know everything we would need, should the Maker not have done what they did.”

Basha drew herself up.

“Yet here we are… Why are you really here?”

It stopped speaking for a while, calculating what to say.

“We search. Many ones have gone out to many places. Most beings of sentience are broken and shattered, new life but pale echoes of the old, unable to reform a structure beyond the cells that compose them. Not all, though. We come to warn of something greater.”

“And tell me, Aaru." She raised her weathered head, defiant against the dying light. "Why should I fear the half-kempt dreams of old Laws’ creation?” Basha scoffed. After all, if she could fix Varn, anything was possible.

Anything.

“All must fear what is coming. Fear means defense. Fear means watchfulness. In some threads, they are benign. In others, we have found them difficult, blind, yet reality in the grasp of their appendages should they wake up. New gods rise in distant worlds, Flame-Bringer. New gods rise to swallow us all, though they do not know it yet.” Five clicks. “They have taken another of us. They are testing that one, and though they know little they will find answers some day…some day soon, very soon."

"So?"

"Even wise ones are yet filled with folly, that much is clear. The Maker tries desperately to tether them, but even now these creatures infest their levels of the Tower, little maggots burrowing into the old riverbed in ways only beasts of Golrad or the Maker's Udduk-Hal ever could. It is nothing substantial, but it is enough to give this one pause. Tell me, Flame-Bringer. Have you checked your charge as of late? The Spear is… lax. We have not seen a Searcher in a long while.”

Basha's lips pursed, eyes burning with hidden fire. She was angry now.

“Your 'new gods' will never make it here.”

Three clicks.

"They are not to be trifled without consequence."

"I don't care."

In that moment a deep boom shook the plain. Some worm had found its prey, likely half dragged from the bog. It would be feasting, now. The Aaru continued, roving eyes glimmering in contempt.

“Small creatures they are, with smaller minds still; we have catalogued this fact. Their bodies however…they are like the make of the Armies in Foundation. Vessels of Divinity. Of Order.”

“Like the Chosen?”

“The very same. They will rewrite us, should they learn how. Now, they are coming. We know they will come here in time. We know you are not safe, Flame-Bringer.”

“The Maker will stop them, just as they stopped the other Laws. You are foolish, to have so little faith.”

Basha’s words are only met with a scornful laugh, a million voices speaking in one.

“You put too much faith in what ruined you, Flame-Bringer. The new gods wish to do something even greater than you know. Our warning is not unfounded.” Its voice was sadder now, almost laden with remorse, or as much a creature of its ilk could afford, anyway. “Come, join us. We do not want to see you endure what is to come.”

“No.” She hummed softly, old fingers rattling in wind. “I have to fix things.”

The Aaru jerked, a high-pitched whine issuing from its body, the entire thing shuddering.

“You do not know what choice it is you make.”

“Whatever it is, it is the right one.”

They stood there for a while, eyes locked as the pines cracked in the wind.

She was the Fixer, after all.

It gurgled.

“Goodbye, Flame-Bringer. We will not come here again.”

It scuttled off into the twilight, leaving Basha alone once more but for the silent six-armed form of Varn.

“Goodbye,” she whispered, her voice catching in the warm air.

She dreamt of gods, that night.

Not of the Maker, nor any Law great or small. No, she dreamt of new gods, little creatures growing in mind and body until they were as numerous as the stars themselves, a superorganism designed to dominate until it rendered itself extinct, only hollow husks of ideas and fractured reality remaining in its wake.

A cancer.

She dreamt of gods, that night.

She dreamt of whole universes drowning.


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