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November 21, 2022
"Mes de los Muertos"

Extinction's Brink 02

By Alexandra Queen

The tale thus far: Rho Five's existance as a young Rep is simple: work, obey, get rewarded. The eldest Daugh'ter has retold the story of the Reps' fall from the heavens to reinforce that simple view of life. Rho Five's favorite mistress is destined to change that all, however, and as much trust as he has in her, he's still a little nervous when she summons him out into the pouring night rain for a special task.
The lodge of Rho Five's people was located on a hillside, where the torrential winter rains would pool the least. Below, on the side where the sun rose, a meadow stretched out where deer or horses sometimes grazed, spreading back to the edges of the tree line. The other sides of the hill were more rocky going, leading west to the sea and south to a creek bed that was mostly dry in the summer. Once the rains came, however, the creek swelled to a rushing stream that could get to be...

"It's up to my thighs already!" Ahead of him in the rain, Psi Two was wading through the current, too quickly for his sense of comfort.

"Maybe you should slow down a little. The current is swift."

"I want to get there before anyone notices we're gone."

Rho Five glanced upstream nervously. "Maybe we should stick to the banks. Rains like this could mean a flash flood."

"We're walking on the banks. The creek has just flooded its normal boundaries."

"We could walk on the new banks."

"They're too overgrown. The normal clear paths are flooded. Just hurry. We'll take the safer way back."

The stream bed twisted south, away from the hill with the lodge along the backs of the lower hills that formed the sunset boundaries of the meadow. Somewhere in the middle of the long mound of hills lay the mouth to the Caves of the Fire Runes. There lay the secrets of the gods, the wisdom of the Daugh'ters, and the way back to the glory of Rho Five's ancestors -- salvation for all Reps. Convinced as he was that Psi Two would be the one to unlock those secrets, Rho Five died a hundred deaths every time she missed a step or stumbled over a submerged branch. When she finally veered off to the left and disappeared into the gloom of an alcove in the hillside, he found a tree to hold onto and sighed in relief.

"What are you doing, Fi?"

He straightened up from leaning against the trunk. "Catching my breath. I was going to wait for you up there out of the..."

"Get in here!"

Rho Five was speechless. The Cave of the Fire Runes was forbidden to any but the Daugh'ters. He tried to stammer that, but to no avail. "Are you disobeying me?" Psi Two's voice was silky with menace.

"No! No, but isn't it forbidden...?"

"Well of course it is." She was standing impatiently in the alcove, water swirling around her thighs in an eddy. "If that she-moose and the others like her let just anyone in to look at the runes, there'd be no reason to obey their every whim, now would there?"

"But... the gods said..."

Psi Two turned away as he entered the alcove and touched the smooth walls. Smooth stone flowed across the opening, sealing them in an underground blackness. Rho Five pressed himself back against a wall, trembling, ashamed of his fear and terrified at the thought of facing powers no Rep was ever meant to behold.

"Relax." Psi Two's voice was matter of fact. Around them, the hills began a low, wordless chant. "The Reps once walked among the gods and did their bidding, didn't they?"

"But only the Daugh'ters..."

"There will be no manufacturing, Fi. Lambda One says the runes were the language of the gods. If Reps served the gods, they were no doubt familiar with their language." Her hand found his face in the darkness, and she drew his head down to cradle it against her chest, stilling his trembling. Her heart beat was soothingly calm and steadied. "Do you trust me?"

"Yes."

"I'm not leading you into blasphemy, Fi. I'm sure of it." She sounded so calm and certain. Around them, the water had been gradually receding as the hills hummed, until now it was only at their ankles. As she finished speaking, the last of it swirled away and a tiny green fire flared up on the wall, lighting their features in a pale, godly glow. Rho Five had never seen a fire rune before. He almost cried out as Psi Two reached out and placed her hand over the still green flame. The interior wall split as she touched it, a wide, dark cavern opening up before them.

Stepping inside, she moved to the side and touched the wall. More runes leapt into flame at her touch. Her fingers tapped the symbols rapidly and Rho Five looked away, lest he see forbidden secrets. She frowned as she saw the gesture. "Come here." He tried not to slink over toward her, but he suspected he looked like a coward. How could he not? He was toying with the damnation of his entire people!

"Touch your finger here."

"Those are god symbols. I shouldn't even look at..."

"Don't start that again."

"But don't you remember when Lambda One banished Omicron Three from the lodge for using symbols?"

"And don't you remember me telling you she's fat and wrong? Your finger. Right there. It is a test."

Her hand was gripping his firmly. And well it did, for as he took a breath and reached out a (steady, he was proud to see) finger to touch the cold fire, the room suddenly combusted with the same cold, colored flames. Row upon row of them burned from the walls, in two dim strips along the floors and one along the ceiling, some of them dancing, a few drawing and redrawing shapes. Rho Five's knees almost buckled in fright at the power he was toying with, but Psi Two let out a crow of triumph.

"See! See! I knew it! You don't have to be a Daugh'ter to summon the power of the runes!"

Rho Five's throat was dry as he looked upon the symbols and magics no Rep had seen since they were banished from the heavens by the gods. Psi Two was over by the fires that were dancing, recreating shapes every few seconds. "Here. Look at this. Two nights ago, I saw the new star in the sky. The next day, I saw a point of flame appear within this rune, one I've never seen before. It appeared on this side, passed through the circle and then vanished out this side, but it's back now. This rune has never done that before. They're connected."

"The point is there again now."

"Yes." Her face was lit with the blue fire and a thrill of excitement.

"What does it mean?"

"It means that above the rain clouds, the new star is waiting."

"Is it... the gods?"

"Or a messenger from the heavens. These runes, too. Look at them. They've never glowed in that pattern before either." She stopped and gave him a smile. "You don't understand, Five. Almost every day since I began my Ado Lessons, I've come in here and memorized these runes. This one changes to red whenever anyone enters the Cave of Cleansing, and doesn't go green again until both doors have been closed and no one is in there. This one runs like water until it fills this smooth square, then the runes inside flow up like a river. They are exactly the same, every time, except for these here. Once every spring, this changes, but only a single rune at a time."

"Each one of those little shapes is a rune?"

"Yes."

"There must be as many runes as there are stars in the sky! How could you know one is different?"

"It's what I study every day."

"What does Lambda One say?"

Psi Two glared at him, clearly disappointed. "That the rune heralds the arrival of spring. That these," she pointed at the runes she had gone to after looking at the sphere of fire. "herald her manufacturing of the first Lambda Thirteen made since banishment. But that's like saying that fart Eta Two ripped last night foretold today's rains. Certainly he made a stink, and certainly it's wet today, but the two events are not connected."

He shifted his weight. The floor was cool under his feet, flatter and smoother than any rock he'd ever seen. "But the star is?"

"I think so." She took a deep breath and then put her hand on the runes. "I'm going to find out. We're forbidden to touch any but the runes we know, but that's foolishness. They mean something. They're tools. They're meant to be used."

It's dangerous to use a tool you don't know how to work, he opened his mouth to say, but the words froze as he watched her fingers touch the new pattern of runes. They changed, flashed, and a scratchy sound filled the air.

"What's it doing?" he asked, looking around for the source of the sound.

Psi Two had taken a step back, her eyes like saucers. "I don't know. I've never heard of the runes speaking aloud before."

"They sound more like they're screaming, like cicadas, maybe..."

A crackle and three musical tones suddenly interrupted the scratchy sound, and a strange voice spoke from nowhere. "Glor dorangu schlep vox."

Psi Two and Rho Five stared at each other, speechless. It could only be the voice of the gods. Rho Five's heart was hammering so quickly he felt he might pass out. He knew she would be the one to do it.

"Glor doranguman schlep vox. Schlep vox. ... Glor dorangu schlep amman vox. Enut. Feedorem ba." Another set of tones and then the scratching noise again. Suddenly, the continually changing blue sphere turned completely red and the rune Psi Two said was new became highlighted with what looked like an orange arrow head. It ceased its slow inching across the sphere and veered in toward the center, quickly. Almost all of the runes in the cave were red now, flashing urgently, with more coming alive all the time. Soft chimes were sounding from a dozen places, and a Daugh'ter's voice spoke suddenly out of thin air, like the voice of the god but more quiet and smooth.

"Proximity alert. Automated systems powering on."

Psi Two let out a little cry of euphoria and leapt into his arms. They held each other, laughing and crying at the same time. Rho Five didn't know what most of the words spoken meant literally, but they all spelled out one thing: salvation. The gods were coming. Psi Two had unlocked the mysteries of old. His people were returning to the stars once more.

"What are they saying? What are they saying?" He could barely contain himself.

"Shh! There's never been so much new going on before! Let me look at it." Smoothing a clump of pale, wet hair back from her face, Psi Two wrestled to regain her composure and began looking around systematically, soaking in all the changes. Rho Five folded his arms across his chest, hugging himself a bit in happy impatience. Who would have thought such momentous events would happen in his lifetime? He had waited sixteen seasons. He could wait a few minutes now for the wisest Daugh'ter there ever was to analyze the situation. His eyes were proud as he looked at Psi Two, her slender limbs and fascinating curves, her beautiful face and the habitually determined set to her mouth, those sharp, sharp eyes that never stopped searching, even when she rewarded him and gasped with shared pleasure. There was never a better, stronger, smarter...

There was a thump and a humming sound that caused Psi Two to spin and face the doors. "Skin rot and blindness," she cursed, a look of fierceness and fear crossing her face. "Someone's coming. Lambda One."

They looked at each other, unspoken acknowledgement of their doom passing between them. Lambda One would never forgive Psi Two for being the one to have regained the wisdom of the gods. She would use Rho Five's presence as an excuse to banish them both for sacrilege.

"It's all right if we get left behind while the others return to the heavens," Rho Five told her, realizing that being left in the dirt would not be so bad if he still had Psi Two to serve. "I'll take care of you."

"She'll have us stoned to death, Fi," Psi Two said calmly. She had already mastered her fear and was all grim determination. "Get behind me. Remember that you had no choice. I threatened to banish you if you didn't obey."

"But..."

"I forbid you to argue with me."

Helplessly, Rho Five went to stand behind her as across the cave, the door slowly split open.

Article © Alexandra Queen. All rights reserved.
Published on 2004-01-31
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