On Thursday We Leave For Home
rating: +2+x

"I found something today."

Oscar didn't even raise his head, just muttering faint recognition that I'd spoken. I narrowed my eyes at him. Even for a 'go he was usually more polite than this.

"Oscar."

"Hmm?" He finally pulled himself away from his book and stared at me.

"I found something today."

"That's great, Rei." He turned back to whatever be was reading and I frowned. Reaching into my pouch, I retrieved the folder and set it on top of a jar of cream that was resting on the table. He lazily drew his gaze up to it, and then his mouth fell open.

"You stole from the Repository?!"

"I.. just borrowed it," I said, glancing away as he snatched the folder from its perch. "It was buried under a thousand old papers. Nobody'll notice it's gone."

Oscar shook his head in disbelief. "You're a violet, and now you're a thief."

"Well, maybe they shouldn't have given me a key that unlocks almost everything."

He closed the folder and looked at me with a mixture of astonishment and outrage shining in his eyes. "They could deshade you for this."

"You know they don't do that anymore," I snapped back, though I wasn't actually certain of it. I hadn't heard of a deshading since the yellow who'd been caught with orange children, and that was what, sixty years ago? Seventy?

Oscar sighed and set the folder on the table. "If you're lucky, the yellows will intervene and you'll get a few decades' remission. At best," he said. His words dripped with contempt even as his face betrayed worry. "Why would you do something like this?"

I shifted uncomfortably. "I.. I'm really not sure," I stammered, my confidence suddenly faltering a little. "It really caught my eye. I mean, look at this." I picked up the folder and pointed to a name scrawled on the outside. "This is addressed to someone named 'Alexis.' Have you ever heard of someone named that?"

Oscar shrugged. "Whoever he is, I still don't see how his name inspired you to commit a capital offense. I've met plenty of people with weird names. I mean, K'ah, before you showed up, my last dihab partner was a violet named Rhonda." He snickered slightly before returning to his deathly serious expression. I watched with rising anxiety (yet at the same time I wasn't really looking at him) as he rubbed his hands together in thought. Finally, he exhaled.

"Rei, I like you, so I'm not going to report you immediately for this. Just return it tomorrow and everything will go back to normal, okay?"

I nodded, barely listening to what he was saying. My mind was elsewhere, deep in the pages of a mysterious folder, completely ignoring whatever the hell it was getting itself into.


I nodded at Yahto, who gave me a curt nod and typed something. The door to the Repository rolled open, and I moved inside. Passing the elevator- "ROYG, not for me," as I'd always been taught- I began to descend the looping spiral staircase towards the lower storage vaults. They were dusty and gloomy, full of documents that probably hadn't been read in centuries. I forced down a sneeze as I reached my assigned sublevel, V33, and clicked the lock open with my violet key. Until I'd arrived, it had gone untouched for eighty-four years. During my ten-second orientation from Grant, the local green for my zone, I learned that V20 through V35 had been maintained by pinks until several of them starting stealing and destroying files. He didn't tell me what had happened to them, but I didn't need to guess.

I shivered- either from the memory or the dank chill of being so far underground, I wasn't sure- and looked about. Nobody was there. Slowly, I pulled out the folder and looked at it, like it would open its mouth and start telling me its secrets if I stared hard enough. It remained silent.

My hands were poised to open it, to spill its contents, to read the mystery that had caught my attention for reasons unknown, but I faltered, something buried deep inside me reaching out and constructing me. I felt perspiration forming and wiped it off. That would be a dead giveaway to anyone who happened to check in on me. I closed my eyes and held the file close to my chest. It felt oddly warm. Yet a part of me was screaming.

"Life's a slippery slope for a violet," my diploid had once warned me. "One wrong move and you're at the point of no return. Don't nobody respect vi’s."

I shook my head, wondering where that memory had come from. I hadn't thought of them in easily fifty years, since my last 'con. Yet something in me acknowledged that I had reached that point. An event horizon.

I opened the folder.

To my surprise, the world did not immediately end, and I pulled out the first paper. It was a letter, starting with “My dearest Alexis.” I looked it over, not understanding much of it. The handwriting was terrible, and it was full of made-up words like “amor.” I looked at it in confusion before shuffling it behind the stack and looking at the next paper. It was a printed image of two people. I couldn’t tell their color because of the faded brownish tone of the image, but they were probably reds or oranges, because they were clearly women and I could see a marriage stripe on one of their necks. I tried to think of the last time I’d seen a marriage stripe on anyone. They were practically nonexistent nowadays. It’d been at least a few decades.

There was nothing on the back of the picture, so I pulled out the paper behind it. It was folded up into a compact square. The paper was a light bluish shade, and I carefully brought the corners apart.

It was a map.

I tried to make sense of it. I’d seen plenty of maps before, strewn throughout the Repository, but never anything like this. It showed beyond. My whole district was barely a dot. Everything I had ever known, everything inside the Walls, was a small circle in the corner of this great map. I could feel my eyes dilating in wonder.

All my life I’d wondered what lay Beyond. My diploid had warned me that it was a wild and savage place. I’d caught scraps of conversations from yellows and greens and even oranges, listening silently from behind stacks of boxes or under track-cars. They spoke of terrible beasts and horrible chaos that reigned beyond the reach of Kaiwan. I was never afraid, even through the warnings of ancient yellows. It excited me.

I pushed the thoughts away and looked back at the map. It was labelled “Guia,” and I wondered if that was the name of the lands in Beyond before reminding myself what the yellow had said. Beyond the Walls ruled only nameless disorder.

But I found myself faltering in my faith. The map was pleasing to look at. It showed the corner of the Walls reaching into the shallows of a vast sea, across which was a strange outcropping dotted with shapes I didn’t recognize. On the other edge of the sea was a circle with a red heart drawn around it in some strange ink. I pushed some papers off to the side in order to clear space on a table so I could spread the map out. I realized my mistake too late. A small metal rack, designed for organizing papers, fell to the floor with an echoing clang.

I swore silently and bent to pick it up before anyone came to investigate. My back was still turned when I heard a voice.

“What in the…”

I turned in time to see Oliver, an indigo I recognized. Mail clerk for some green way upstairs. I stared at him, and he stared back, though not at me. At the open map and papers spread on the table.

“Hey, Oliver, look, I can explain…”

He raised his hand and ninety-seven years of instinctual subordination kicked in, though not completely. I shut my mouth but still stared at him as he walked over and gaped at the contents of the folder.

“You’ve been opening and reading Repository documents?!” he finally blurted out, glaring at me. “You’re violet! This is a serious offense!”

“What are you going to do about it?” somebody said. I looked around for the speaker, but saw horror in Oliver’s face and realized it had been me. Brief panic was shut down by adrenaline, fueling my sudden boldness. “Yeah, what? I may be violet, but you’re still just a ‘go. You can’t report me for shit.”

Oliver’s eyes were blank even as his expression was aghast. We stood in a silent standoff for almost a full minute.

Then he turned and ran back up the stairs he’d come from.

“Yeah, that’s right, run, coward!” I called after him, giddy in my delinquency. Almost instantly though, I realized my mistake.

Oliver couldn’t report me, but a blue could. And Yahto was only a few levels above me.

Suddenly panicked, I grabbed the map and stuffed it in my pouch as I sprinted for the stairs.


I managed to get out in time, but they're looking for me now. I've heard the announcements about a rogue violet as I've slipped through dirty pipes and back alleys. I feel strangely exhilarated by it all- maybe I'm just high on the energy, but it feels like some uncontrollable force is pushing me forward. I've never felt this much… well, feeling. Even as I wade through abandoned tunnels full of slime and vermin and things I'd like to forget, I'm surprisingly happy. I feel like I'm moving towards something good.

I emerged under a track-car bridge, dirty and blinking in the sudden light. I had no idea how long I'd been in the pipes and caverns and cesspools, but the sky was slowly darkening. I kept in the shadows, peering up through the slats and seeing greens and a few oranges and yellows. Many of them murmured in hushed voices about the terror of the renegade violet, and I smiled despite myself. Then a group of yellows walked over my hiding spot, and I found out for myself what they wore under those robes. I covered my mouth to keep from both laughing and retching.

I kept quiet, hidden in the dark, filthy swamp below the tracks. It began to grow cold, but I forced myself to wait. I had selected a metric in my mind. Once I went more than seven minutes without hearing the quiet alarms and angry voices of search parties, I would leave the pit and find somewhere to go. Slowly counting down the seconds in my head, I tried to decipher my location. I had traveled at least a few leagues, mostly taking left turns, which probably put me somewhere near Osmait Square…

I gasped. I knew exactly where to go.


For the first time since the Repository, I felt fearful. At least I'd warmed up some- I thought my chattering teeth, a product of the cold wetness, would betray me, but I must've passed over a grate or something. It felt like a blanket had been wrapped around me.

Finally reaching the end of an alley between row after row of green apartments, I saw my target. Stretching away from me, protected only by a rusty, ill-maintained fence and a sleeping blue guard, was easily two thousand run-down structures. They were old and wooden and many looked on the verge of collapse. Dim light flickered through a handful of broken and dirty windows.

The slums. Pink town.

I eased across the street, arriving at the fence. The guard was still sleeping. I pitied him- if I was discovered here, he'd be in remission for years- but self-preservation reigned supreme. I searched the fence, eventually finding a hole I could squeeze through quietly enough. The guard didn't stir. After a few careful steps that determined my feet were quiet in the overgrown grass, I ran like hell.

A few pinks saw me but said nothing. I ran until my lungs began to burn. I stopped before a large building and collapsed against the railing. Looking around, I decided I was far enough out of sight to anyone outside pink town.

I stood up and knocked on the door.

Voices inside expressed surprise, fear, and everything in between for three seconds before a nervous pink eased the door open and stared at me with wide eyes.

"Hi," I said, trying to sound pleasant. "May I come in?"

The pink nodded silently and stood aside. I moved into the room- one of only four, apparently, separated by rickety half-walls- and faced a crowd of at least twelve pinks. I raised a hand in what I hoped was a gesture of peace. Several minutes passed before anyone spoke.

"Are you the violet we have heard of?" They enunciated slowly and carefully. I understood. Pinks didn't exactly do much talking.

I nodded, somewhat surprised. "You've heard of me?"

The pink tipped their head. "It is the life of a pink to say little, but listen well. One can learn much from those who disregard your existence."

I hadn't expected such sagacity from slaves. I introduced myself. "I'm Rei, Repository cataloguer… or, well, former Repository cataloguer. I've kinda broken a few laws and now I need somewhere to go…" I trailed off, looking at them pleadingly. They glanced around at each other for a few seconds, not even discussing the matter, before the pink who seemed in charge spoke again.

"Yes, you may stay here for as long as you like. It is not our way to mistreat our superiors."

I laughed slightly despite the serious situation. "Thank you, really, but I'm not your superior, uh…" I blanked. "What's your name again?"

They looked at me like I was insane before speaking. "Pinks do not have the luxury of names." They hesitated before adding, "though some call me Six."

"Six?"

They nodded. "PT-6."

"Oh god," I said, cringing. "I'm… so sorry."

Six shrugged. "You get used to it. The yellows have their desires." He motioned to a few other pinks, who moved into one of the adjacent rooms. "Come," Six said. "Let us get you cleaned up. You look like you've been hiking through the sewers."

I smiled. "You have no idea."

The water was cold, but I've never felt so clean in my life. The pinks just stood there and watched- I got the feeling they were resisting the urge to help. I know a lot of reds and oranges have cleaner pinks. They gave me towels and after I was dry, exhaustion hit me like a speeding track-car. Six insisted on giving me their bed despite my objections, and though I felt a little guilty, I was surprised at the comfort and passed out almost immediately.

I think it's been two days now. I've been sleeping a lot, and whenever I'm up the pinks cater to me, bringing me food and water. Six and some of their friends work around yellows and have been giving me updates on the search for me. So far, no guards have come looking in pink town- they probably don't want to. Apparently Oscar has been brought in for interrogation, though, which has me worried. I know he'll break instantly, and when they discover my thievery alongside everything else, I'll be as good as dead. The yellows are only merciful to a certain extent, and I knew I was already stretching that.

I laid awake for a long time, listening to dripping water and distant voices and the quiet movements of the pinks. I was afraid, but I didn't think it was for myself.


They tried to put me in remission last night.

I felt it as soon as it began. My thorere started shimmering, and my vision started to fade. It was horrible, like a panic attack that wouldn’t stop. I managed to stumble to the kitchen and get a spoon before my knees buckled. I popped my thorere out with it. It was excruciating; I could feel each tiny ligament and capillary popping as I forced it out of me. I don’t really remember anything other than the pain and how badly i just wanted it gone. Six said I was screaming, and they had to stuff a pillow over my face. They were all amazed by what I’d done. I’m just glad to be rid of that damned thing. I feel… free now, like I’ve cut off my last connection to the life of sorting old papers and being walked all over by greens and oranges.

The pinks patched me up good, and I feel okay. They said I didn’t even lose too much blood, though I think they cleaned it all up before I could see it, so for all I know I painted the floor gold. There's a lot I'm not sure of right now. But I do know one thing.

I can't stay here anymore.

I'm putting all of these innocent pinks in danger- they've done so much for me, but if I was tracked here, I would be thanking them by getting them executed. Or worse.

I waited until Six was gone and the shack mostly empty, and I stepped outside into the cold.


I managed to stay fairly warm despite the frigid breeze as I slipped through the shadows. There weren't very many people awake at the moment, mostly pinks and the occasional violet. The yellows were moaning up in their steeple, but they probably wouldn't see me. I crept between buildings and under bridges.

I could see the Walls.

They towered over the buildings in the distance, though not impossibly high. I looked around and saw a campanile stretching upwards. It came close. Hopefully, close enough. My target set, I eased under a railing and splashed into the canal. The water was surprisingly warm, and slightly cleaner than the sewers. I stepped forward, trying to stay quiet. The boats weren't technically allowed out here for a few hours, so I should be out of sight. But when an orange decided to go fishing, a pesky law wasn't going to stop him.

The water was shallow enough to walk here, but I knew the folder wouldn't survive if I were to fall into deeper pockets. I might not, either. I only knew what swimming even was thanks to an overheard conversation between some greens. So I carefully felt my way forward, creeping along the sandbar. The tower was coming closer, but at the same time, the sky was growing lighter. I needed to move faster, but I couldn't find anything to help me.

I was feeling the sense of dread creeping up on me until, for reasons I'm not sure of, I looked straight up. And there, just within reach, a large piece of wood was leaning off the side of the wall. I stretched up and managed to grab it, laying it in the water and carefully climbing aboard. It held my weight perfectly.

I paddled forward, moving much faster now. In twelve minutes I was close enough to see into the windows of the building I was aiming for. They were almost completely dark.

The sun was continuing its ascension, and I pushed back the creeping hands of panic that were trying to drag me down. I was so close, almost directly below the tower now. My hands moved automatically, propelling me forward, closer and closer to everything I didn't know.


The yellows are watching me. I can feel it.

I crawled out of the canal and across the twenty or so feet between myself and the building in a few seconds, and now I'm hiding in the darkness of an overhang, nervously watching the sky as it continued to luminesce, waiting. I don't know what for. But I've seen yellows walking through areas around me, atop edifices and across track-car rails, and even though none of them have reacted, I swear they're all watching me. Their hoods obscure their eyes, and it makes them feel like silent judges, phantoms just waiting for me to be drawn and quartered.

I shivered and slipped around into the narrow alley between buildings, looking up at the high-rise I'd been aiming for. It was so tall it made me dizzy. Bringing my eyes back to earth, I noticed a door in the corner of my vision, and felt a rush of energy as my good fortune was revealed.

A small metal plaque by the door read: VP Entrance. Violets and pinks only. Nobody would ever see me.

I pushed the door open and discovered a staircase stretching up into oblivion. "Damn," I muttered. Even in this massive structure we were denied elevators.

I took a deep breath and began to climb.

By the eighth floor, I was tired. I kept going. By the twenty-second floor, I was exhausted. Still I kept going. By the forty-seventh floor, my legs felt like they were roasting in a furnace.

On the fifty-sixth floor, I collapsed.

For a long time, I only saw darkness. Pallid shapes of nothingness swam before my eyes. Even as I felt disconnected from it, I could still feel my body, and it ached with soreness and pain I had never before felt. I desperately wanted to wake up, and was met with refusal each time. I silently cried for help and was answered only by the void of my own pain and unconsciousness.

But slowly, I started to feel better.

I barely noticed it at first, but the agony was receding, ever so slowly. I writhed, unmoving. It felt like an eternity before my joints were no longer stiff and my head no longer burning. I couldn't even dream. But as one forever bled into another, I realized the sensations had quieted to a dull, tolerable throbbing. Somewhere in my mind, a voice that didn't sound like mine spoke.

Time to wake up, Rei. There are things to be done.

I gasped. I was back on the stairwell, dim light reaching my vision. I coughed a few times and picked myself up from the floor.

Nobody was around, yet I had an eerie feeling. I checked the sign and sighed. Twenty-four floors to go. I would take it slower this time.

I walked casually up the stairs, slowly but with purpose. A few pinks passed, heads down, never looking at me. I almost wished one of them was Six, but shook my head. They'd been nice to me, but I shouldn't draw them into my mess any more. Trying to quiet my thoughts, I passed the seventy-fourth floor. Almost there.

I was very thirsty.

My legs were beginning to ache again as I pushed myself onward and upward, dragging my feet slightly now, staring up the stairs towards my goal, just four stories away now, just three, just two…

My feet tripped on the very last step and I crashed into the door, sinking down to the ground, panting and groaning. Despite my fatigue and the pangs racking my body every few seconds, I felt victorious. I'd made it. I was so close to the Walls now.

Finally, I eased the door open. The roof was deserted except for a pink who was working on something behind a bar.

I stopped. A bar. Bars had drinks.

I dashed over, ignoring the surprised yelp and immediate apology from the pink as I tore a bottle of water from its shelf and drank it in about three seconds. I could feel its hydrating power flowing through me. I'd never felt so good.

Finally quenched, I waved to the pink, who looked away nervously, and moved towards the eastern railing of the rooftop. Favor was still on my side, I observed with delight; the Walls were only a few meters away. Now I simply had to figure out how to reach them. I certainly couldn't jump across the gap- I'd probably make it less than halfway before falling to my untimely demise- and there was nothing connecting the Walls with my location, no boards, wires, nothing. I frowned, and deep inside me two voices raged in a fierce battle.

You'll never make it, give up, give in

You can make it, you're smart, you'll think of something

It's too far across, you'll fail, you'll die

Rei you can do this I believe in you

I blinked, and the war was over. I turned around for a full view of the rooftop. There was the bar, and a small pool with a hot tub, and several tables and chairs, and a shed in the corner. A few scattered glasses and bow ties (and other less decorous articles of removed clothing) indicated there had been some kind of party recently. I guessed the local violets hadn't made it up to clean yet.

Something brushed my foot, and I glanced down to see a string connected to a torn piece of paper reading "HAPP AUTUM EQUIN." I stared at it for several seconds.

I had an idea.

I moved to the shed and tried my violet key in the lock. It clicked open, and with a breath of relief, I peered inside. The shed was really a glorified closet, and it was one hell of a messy closet. Things were strewn about in no apparent system, in piles and under broken shelves. Part of me shuddered at the disorganization, but I kept myself focused on finding something, anything, that could get me across.

It took me a long time, digging through random items, creating and scrapping plans. There was a rope, but it was too short and I had no way to connect it to the Wall. There was a ladder with the same issue. There were dozens of battery-powered fans that were useless to me. Growing frustrated, I wrangled a ridiculously large inflatable pool chair out of my way and saw something shiny. Resting against the wall above a pile of sad, deflated balloons, was a tank of helium. I eyed it, rough concepts forming in my head, streamlining, coming together to form a solid idea.

It just might be insane enough to work.

I poked my head out of the shed. The pink had disappeared, leaving me alone, but some automatic thing had begun to play music. The sun was high in the sky. Blues and greens and maybe even oranges could be here within minutes. I had to be fast.

I yanked the massive pool chair from the shed and dragged it to the eastern railing. Then I went back for the helium tank, lugging it across the deck with breaks every few meters. After some fiddling, I got it connected to the chair and opened the valve. Sweet, buoyant air began to fill out the inflatable's enormous chambers. I let it run as I ran back to the closet and retrieved two of the small fans. Then I waited. The helium seemed to be taking years. I thought of blocking the door, but cursed myself; it would have been great to do that before, but now I couldn't risk the chair floating off without me. Somewhere below me, I heard windows opening, vague noises, some of them maybe voices. I was starting to feel like the chair, and anxiety was my helium. I waited and waited and prayed to whatever gods there might be- except Kaiwan, that bastard- that I wouldn't fail after making it this far. The chair was starting to rise off the floor. I watched it intently, seeing its bulbous form growing out, becoming lighter and rounder every second and-

"Hey!"

I almost broke my neck from whirling around to identify the speaker. A grotesque orange- K'ah, he was so fat, I almost retched just from seeing him- was standing just in front of the bar. I saw the open elevator doors behind him. Sweat rapidly formed and ran down my neck.

"What the hell do you think you're doin'?" the orange bellowed. My vocal chords seemed to have been severed, because I stood completely sstill and silent, failing to produce any sound.

Finally, he turned and yelled at someone behind him. "Call security! Tell 'em there's a fuckin' violet up here!" He turned and glared at me for a few seconds and added, "I think it's that ne'er-do-well they were talkin' about!"

He was facing away from me, yelling into the elevator. I finally snapped into motion, looking back at the chair. It was almost full, rising dangerous close to the top of the railing. Carefully, I pulled it loose from the helium tank and popped the cap into place.

Instantly, I began to rise from the floor.

The orange turned around and let out a series of confused expletives before I drew my arm back and tossed the helium tank at him. It was hard to miss the obese target he presented, and I hit him right in the chest. He fell over, wheezing, and without the tank, I floated even higher, drifting away. I pulled myself up and with a strenuous effort managed to scramble into the chair itself. Now I was safe from falling, but I quickly realized that a breeze was sending me away from the Walls. I reached into the cup holders on either arm of the chair and retrieved the fans, turning them on and pointing them behind me. It worked even better than I'd hoped; I shot through the sky like an arrow. I heard voices below me, but I ignored them and flew towards freedom, laughing in my exhilaration.

Then something sharp rocketed past me, and I looked back down in fear. The guards, a team of indigos, had assembled on the rooftop with a device resembling a huge crossbow. It was firing harpoons at me.

I put one arm out to my left and turned, hoping to disrupt their aim while still trying to maintain my course for the Walls. I was mere centimeters away now, and I could see the world stretching out beyond. It was beautiful.

Then I heard a whistling sound, and then I was hurled into the sky as a deafening pop exploded through the air.

I tumbled downwards for a few seconds, catching the briefest glimpse of my chair, crumpled and punctured. Then I hit the top of the Wall.

I was lucky; I landed while spinning, so I rolled to a stop on the coarse stone surface, with only a few bruises and scratches instead of shattered bones. I felt a disgusting wetness in my mouth and realized I had vomited. As I stood up painfully, my head spinning, I heard voices yelling at me.

After a few seconds, the fog cleared, and I could see who was shouting. On both sides of me, indigo and blue guards were charging, weapons drawn, shrieking for me to stand down and surrender and all sorts of things I didn't plan on doing. I turned quickly and looked over the edge of the wall. There was water below me- very far below me. I gulped, hesitation and fear keeping me tied to the Walls. I glanced back. The guards were closing in. I had seconds at most.

With a cry of a million emotions, I hurled myself from the ledge. As I fell, I saw the guards staring at me in disbelief. I smiled.

Then I struck the water hard.

Pain washed through me as blue washed over me, the world turning blurry and dark, and then I knew no more.


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I woke up atop some great creature today.

Consciousness was slow in its return, but as soon as my eyes flickered open, I saw the most beautiful sky in the world. Drifting clouds formed twisting wisps and puffs, tinted pink and orange and blue. I was laying on something smooth; something moving. I coughed out a few pints of water and stood up shakily. A light breeze blew around me. My arm ached when I put weight on it- looking down, I saw a narrow wound. It had already scabbed over, but it hurt.

I looked around. The surface I was standing on stretched away from me for easily a hundred meters, curving down as it grew distant. I saw that I had been on one of the only smooth sections- other parts were rough and bumpy, with intricate grooves forming patterns across them. Some even had tufts of what looked like plants, and I noticed a huge blob of some kind of fungus.

I decided to get my bearings. As I walked towards the closest edge, a great geyser of water shot into the sky, surprising me so much I fell backwards.

You are awake, someone said. Do not be frightened.

I stared at nothing. "Who said that?"

Come closer, child.

Despite my instincts telling me otherwise, I eased forward, crawling, pulling myself forward with my arms until I was peeking over the edge of the dome. I could see into the water, and before me was a massive head. It was wide but flattened, and a pitch-black eye (that seemed to glow in defiance of its darkness) stared vaguely in my direction.

I looked at the great bluish-grey head and started to say something, but was interrupted by the voice.

Welcome, child. It pleases us that you have survived your perilous escape.

"Are you…" I stared down at the thing. "Are you talking to me?"

Not really, it said. We have no use for words. We can see thoughts, and enter them, and join them. That is our way.

I aimlessly rubbed my fingers together in confusion. "Okay," I said finally. I looked for the words. "Did you save me after I fell from the Walls?"

Yes, child. It was foolish of you to do so. But when the ocean did not see fit to spare you- others do not like your kind, some even hate them- we carried you to safety. Others disagreed, but they dare not challenge Marin.

"Is that your name?" I asked.

It ignored me. We would not have saved you, but we sensed something in you. Something very different. You are not like others of you. You are strong. Kind. And you have a soul with much power; indeed, we sense in you something we haven't sensed in a thousand moons.

"Uh… thanks," I said, rubbing my arm uncomfortably. I was so lost. My throat was scratchy, and I coughed.

You are thirsty, child. Come to the edge of the carapace and drink- the water is fresh.

I slowly crawled over and dipped my face into the waves. It was cold but refreshing. I drank deeply, almost slipping off Marin's shell a few times before crossing my arms under my chin and laying where I could see the head of the beast.

"Where are we going?"

I saw the eye blink slowly. Across the sea. That is your destination, is it not?

I wasn't sure, but heard myself say, "Yes."

Marin's head moved slowly, in what I eventually realized was a nod. We are already far from your afflicted lands. When the moon completes its journey tomorrow, you will be able to see the closest island.

I stared at the horizon. The waves bobbed up and down, rippling and shifting like a shimmering, liquid mirror. I had never seen such clean water in all my life. The undulating, crystalline surface made the waters of the Canal look black by comparison. Occasionally, distant shapes, indistinct and multicolored, broke the surface for a moment before disappearing beneath the iridescent splashes of their own movement. It was mesmerizing. Blues and pinks and greens stretched out to infinity before me, a blend of colors I had never seen inside the grey stone walls of my former life.

Marin was silent, as if respecting my reverence of the seas. We pushed along together until the sky began to grow dim, and before I knew it I was fast asleep.


I was blind; around me was nothing but an impenetrable darkness, swirling in its own nothingness, with slight hues of red tinting everything I could not see. I stumbled and groped through the veil- an almost imperceptible light was in the distance. I realized I was in a long tunnel. I wanted to reach the end so very badly. The light, it called to me; its pale glow carried a welcoming affection, a glimmer of hope, and I desired nothing but to bask in its shine.

Yet for every step I took forward, the tunnel shifted. Progress was unbearably slow. The light seemed to flicker. What's taking you so long?

I could not fight the tunnel. But maybe I could go with it.

In a motion that pained me to my core, I threw myself backwards and was absorbed into the darkness. I became a part of it. I was the dark. And through it, I pushed myself forward. It was like rowing a boat through molasses, but I was making progress. The further I moved, the easier it became. The darkness softened. I felt the warmth of the light slowly wavering across me, and my strength increased. The darkness still resisted, but I was stronger now. The light would be mine.

Sometimes I stumbled, but the light would be mine.


I was awakened suddenly from my dream by a splash of cold. Gasping, I clutched Marin's shell as another frigid wave washed over me. The sky was cloudy and black, and I was reminded of the dark tunnel for a moment before Marin's voice appeared in my head.

Do not be frightened, child, it is only a squall. We have seen worse. We will return to the light of the sun before long.

I nodded, then wondered if Marin could sense or even understand the action, and simply said, "Okay." My teeth chattered. The wind seemed to freeze the water in place where it splashed against my skin. I huddled, wrapping my arms around myself and trying to push my way into the shelter of a small crevice in the bony surface. Marin kept moving, apparently unaware of my suffering. I had never experienced cold like this before. I could barely move. My blood felt like ice. Wind stung my exposed skin and my squinting, wet eyes. I found myself wondering if this was going to be how I died.

The fungus

I felt like screaming, but no sound was produced. I couldn't think. I couldn't
The fungus Rei
breathe. I was
THE FUNGUS


I looked up weakly and saw the huge, blubbery mound only a few meters away. It wobbled slightly in the wind.

Forcing myself to my hands and knees, inertia vainly forcing its way into my joints, I heaved myself forward. Two meters. Another wall of water hit, soaking me and threatening to drag me away, but I held. One and a half meters. I sliced my hand on some cracked piece of shell, but I ignored it and kept moving even as I dripped golden stains across my path. One meter. I could almost touch it. Half a meter. My hand touched its surface. It was sultry and porous. I was there, pressing my face into it. It gave slightly under my weight, so I pushed harder, and the fibers parted, allowing me into the huge, oozing mass. Its warm folds enveloped me. I collapsed into it, and the blob of tissue swallowed me into itself. The sting of the wind and the chill of the water disappeared. I felt like I was in a blissful afterlife.

My strength having been sapped in mere minutes, I curled up in the embrace of the fungus and returned to the realm of sleep.


Child.
Child, wake up.
We are here.

Rei, wa k e u p
I opened my eyes and saw nothing but a dim yellowish-green color. I was wet, though it was warm and peaceful, not the frozen grip of death. I wondered where I was for a moment before the memories of the last few days caught up to me.

"Marin?"

You are awake, child

"Yeah, I, uh… can I come out?"

The storm has passed. The warming star has returned to its throne.

"…Okay." I pushed through the layers of the lifesaving fungus and found a bright light shining into my eyes
the light at the end of the tunnel
from above. I squinted. The sun was at its peak.

How long had I been asleep? I was really sleeping a lot the last few days.

I flopped awkwardly from the mass and walked across the carapace, basking in the warm sunlight. Looking ahead, I could see a dark shape on the horizon.

"Marin… what's that?" I asked, though I knew the answer already.

The first island. We will reach the shore soon. You are home, child.

I blinked in confusion. "My home? No, I'm… this is…"

I trailed off, losing my thoughts. For some reason, the distant land- seeming to grow as it rested upon the rim of the world, a rising mountain sprouting from the waves, welcoming with its green hills- felt friendly, felt right. Maybe this would be home. Maybe.

Marin interrupted me and pulled me out of my torpor. We cannot go much closer. The waters are too shallow for us here.

"What?" I almost shrieked, calmness evaporating like a fine mist. "How am I supposed to-"

Turn around and walk past your shelter.

Assuming Marin meant the fungal mass, I moved around it, smiling despite myself as the sun shone down on me. Passing the blob and looking around, I saw something protruding from a sandy clump several meters away. Curious, I carefully walked towards it, stepping over clumps of seaweed and bits of stone. Approaching the mysterious shape, I gasped. A curved, wooden form was visible under only a thin layer of sand. It was a boat, in fairly good condition. I practically pounced on it, digging away dirt with my fingers, pushing the small craft slowly free from its prison.

After several minutes, I managed to get it loose and half-drag, half-carry it to the edge of Marin's carapace. I sat in it, at a loss for words.

"Marin…" I started to say.

We know, came the response. May the warming star and the shining waves show you favor.

I smiled. "Thank you."

Marin dipped slightly to one side, and I slipped into the water, floating in my small vessel. Then I saw a great fin rising into the air- perhaps a last goodbye- before it splashed into the water with such force that my boat shot towards the island like a harpoon.

I gripped the sides of the small craft and heard myself laughing in exhilaration as I half-sailed, half-bounced through the foamy shallows. I finally slowed a few meters from the shore, and after very carefully climbing out, found I could walk from here. I pulled the boat behind me- I wasn't really sure why, but I felt like I should- and trudged up the beach. Looking down, I wanted to run my hands through the smooth grey sand, but something pulled me forward. Releasing the boat once I was sure the tide wouldn't pull it away, I moved up a large hill. I had no plan of where to go or what (if anything) I would be looking for. I trekked a meandering path through the grass and the rocks, and paused when I reached the summit. Looking to my left, I was flooded with an inexplicable feeling.

Atop a nearby hill stood a stone structure. It wasn't very big, and it didn't really look like anything I'd ever seen, yet somehow I recognized it.

I quickly started toward it, stumbling over stones and righting myself, clawing and almost scrambling uphill. I finally pulled myself up over a ledge, and stood at the edge of a stone platform.

I stared at it for a long time. Between the thick stone pillars was a cold darkness.

I stepped inside.

Moving towards the center, I saw that the structure formed a ring around a pit. Fear washed over me, but was pushed away by a curious desire. I stepped to the edge.

A few meters below me laid a woman. I gasped as I recognized her. One of the women from the photograph. I could see her color now…

She was pink.

But that wasn't possible. She was draped in a traditional red funeral dress, with flowers around her still form and her eyes closed silently. I watched her, kneeling down and gently touching the rim of the grave. A whisper came- I felt my lips move, though I was strangely unsure if I had truly said it.

"Alexis…"

Something happened then. It wasn't much. A soft, warm breeze blew across the hill, and I exhaled unconsciously. The air changed slightly; I felt it at the core of my being. A lightness, a fading melancholy, and then it was over. Leaves drifted down from the sky, ending their twirling dance as soon as it had begun. I looked at the tomb, and I understood.


I shoved my boat off into the water and jumped in, paddling with my hands. The island slowly receded behind me, yet I was not sad. I felt… complete.

I looked around. The water was a shimmering crystal blue, and curious fish circled me before darting off. Great dark shapes moved in the distance, and massive clouds, tinted slightly pink, billowed across the sky. I breathed in a deep lungful of ocean air like it was my first breath in years.

"Marin?" I called to the sea. "Marin, are you there?"

I was met with silence, but I smiled and pushed forward. That was all right. The wind was in my favor and the waves were calm as I rippled through, making small swirls that disappeared in an instant.

I knew I'd get an answer eventually.

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