They call it the Plain of Infinity. That’s because nobody ever found its end. No matter in what direction they would venture, they would never find anything but endless fields of grass and flowers, cut into a majestic tapestry by slow, lazy rivers. For all they know, the mountain around which they built their city is the only prominent feature of this world. Their technology is a strange mix, constrained in its development by this world’s scarce resources.
For thousands of years they’ve been mapping their world, trying to find something, anything. Other people, perhaps another city, even a ruined one. A hill, another mountain, a crater or perhaps a sea, like in the legends with ships that battled each other on wide expanses of water.
But there was nothing. To make matters worse, all the maps they drew became worthless in a couple of years. Rivers would change their path, the colors of the Plains shifting as species of vegetation replaced each other.
Most people had given up and were living a life of careful stagnation, in balance with the few resources they had. But some of them would never give up the hope that there was some sister city on this strange world, some other culture they could talk to. These people are the Valiant Explorers. An ancient order that is sworn to find a cure to their eternal loneliness.
Their astronomers could tell that they orbit a small, orange star, alongside three other larger planets. They had measured their world by the curvature of the horizon seen from the peaks of the mountain. It wasn’t large. Even so, sometimes, Valiant Explorers would travel too much, never to be seen again.
Kate leaves the city through the East gate. She bears the white and yellow garments of Valiant Explorers. Seven trusted companions will travel with her. They are sworn to accompany her for as long as their wits and bodies can endure. They each have twelve beasts of burden with them. Older expeditions were done with vast resources, but that was hundreds of years ago. The Valiant Explorers have dwindled, and Kate is among the last astronomers of this ancient order.
She has picked her companions carefully. Samuel and Mora are cartographers. Patros, Ylva and Vasyl are farmers. Ronin is a doctor and Hanys is a toolsmith. Today, they ride their beasts towards the sunrise. They have maps, compasses, telescopes, spyglasses, medicine and a massive amount of food, because no matter how beautiful the Plain of Infinity is, its vegetation provides almost no nutrition, its rivers are dead and no seed had ever grown there.
There is little celebration. Few people have gathered at the outskirts of the City to see them depart, mostly family of the few of them who have such a thing. Kate has no family. Her parents had both become Valiant Explorers and have left long ago, never to be seen again. Their ancient order is slowly fading away and perhaps soon, the Mountain City will abandon its last hopes, always wondering why they were left orphans on this world… or perhaps not even that.
The sun rises again. Its light sparkles through the dew hanging from multicolored flowers. In the sparkling field of jewelry lies a dirty, skeletal woman. Kate opens her eyes. Sunken in their orbits, they still haven’t lost their spark.
She rises, slowly. She waits for the earth to stabilize under her feet, swooning. Four sticks are hanging from her shoulders. Two are her arms. The other, are… two sticks. “The first step is the hardest” she whispers, not daring to use her broken voice.
Like a strange, four-legged spider, she moves across the plain with her head down in the ground, not wanting to waste the energy to look ahead. She is so light now that she barely leaves a trace in the grassy, flowery field. The hours pass. The sun is on top of her now, drying her. The only thing not in short supply here is water. Kate opens the small bottle hanging from her belt and takes a few sips.
A few more hours pass. She stumbles and falls to the ground. It’s not the first time her muscles betray her. And every time it’s harder to get up. But as always, she does. She checks her compass and continues. After a few more steps she pauses, thinking. It’s an activity that doesn’t happen often these days. Thinking takes too much energy. But she’s thinking about something.
Why is she thinking? What caused this? She takes one more step, then the thinking happens again. The thinking was caused by a reflex. Her eyes are reporting something unusual. Was that something glistening through her hair? The sun should be behind her by now. She slowly raises her skull, narrow eyes emerging from the curtain of departing dirty hair.
Her eyes widen a bit. Then widen a bit more. Her lips start to treble. There… up ahead… lies… a pyramid. A white pyramid with a blue, blinding light shining on top. “Whhhhh” she croaks. Now she’s really thinking. Not words. Words are too little. Her brain doesn’t need words now. She needs those thoughts that unlock the last powers in her body. And suddenly, her muscles do not tremble anymore. She drowns in adrenaline. And she starts in a last, perhaps self-destructive march.
The sky grows darker but on she walks, her feet steadier perhaps than even the day she left the Mountain City. She feels like her body’s dying, but she knows she will reach the pyramid. It has grown. A lot. It is now occupying half the space between earth and sky, and yet she’s still far from it.
Night falls, but not Kate. She walks on, like a specter of willpower itself. Her disheveled body basks in the cold, blue light of the pyramid’s sun, until she finally approaches the structure enough for the sun to disappear, indicating the pyramid has some sort of plateau on top.
The pyramid is one huge staircase. She’s not surprised to realize she can take the first step. She looks above. It seems endless. Walking was one thing. But now… to climb… this… it must be thousands of steps. Or tens of thousands. There is a temptation to take a nap before the climb. She resists it: “The first step is the hardest”.
Kate climbs, and climbs, and climbs, and climbs. And as the sun rises somewhere behind the pyramid, she climbs some more. She sometimes stops, with her head resting on a step, her ear pressed against the cold stone. Is there a sound coming from inside? Is that a vibration she feels, at the edge of the senses? Before sleep can encroach on her, she lifts her head and continues.
Strangely, instead of growing weaker, she feels stronger. With every step she takes, she feels more whole. And, even though she does not see it, her body is rejuvenating. Her breasts are again pressing against her dirty shirt. Her legs are again thicker than her arms. But she doesn’t notice this. She eats the steps, one after the other, with the determined hunger of one that witnesses the blossoming flower of one’s destiny.
She never looks behind, to see how the pyramid is in the middle of a gigantic spiral pattern within the Plain of Infinity. She never worries that she might stumble and fall. Step after step, she ascends. Is she the first one to be here? There are no markings or leftovers on the clean, perfect white steps of the structure.
After one more step, she feels, rather than sees the blue light. It is so strong it can be felt. She doesn’t dare to look ahead. She takes one more step and almost shouts in surprise when the light dies. Now she can look at what waits for her atop the pyramid.
A person dressed in a black robe sits cross-legged between two purple pillars. A bald, white head with gray eyes stares at her, expressionless. Whether it’s a man or a woman, she can’t tell.
A warm smile dawns on the person’s face: “Welcome, Kate. We’ve been expecting you”.
She blinks. A muscle twitches on her face. Is this real or is she dreaming or dying on a patch of poisonous flowers? A part of her knows this is real. So, she steels herself and asks: “We?”
Just as she asks the question, she is suddenly aware of a presence circling her. It makes her hairs raise. Then, she jerks. It’s as if an enormous hand has gripped her body. A feeling of fear almost starts to nag her, before waves of excitement wash it away. She is lifted off the ground, rising slowly in the air. A hypnotic, dreamlike ecstasy takes over her. She hasn’t felt happier in her entire existence. It is time.
The black-clad person stands up.
“Open the Portal, Conduit”, she hears herself say with a steady, sure voice.
The Conduit takes a deep bow and steps aside.
Between the two purple pillars, an explosion of blue light blinds her. As blue fades to black, her eyes turn gray. “It’s all right”, a warm voice speaks in her mind. “You won’t need them for a while.”
She feels the energy of the Portal flow into her. Her arched body floats towards the light, with an amazed smile on her face. Then, everything disappears.
Beyond the beginning, Shards of the Nexus float through a Mist of Universes. Sometimes, they touch each other, and great discharges of creational energy flash through the Mist. The force of imagination pushes through time and space, vibrating, reorganizing, modulating, pulsating. It’s a sort of gravity that works to bring the Shards together. The Nexus is reconstructing itself. Its Agents of Light roam the multiverse, touching Minds, inspiring, helping, protecting, nourishing and, on rare occasions, destroying.
Kate is one such agent. And she’ll be back.
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