Lucy idly strode through the grove. The weather was overcast as always, but the greenery and air felt like Spring. Madame, we must return to the castle at once, said the heavily armored knight that was trailing behind her.
“Why must we go now? It is so pleasant out this evening”, Lucy said halfheartedly.
It is almost nightfall, and there are terrible beasts that roam about after dark. Lucy glanced into a bush off the side of the path and saw it was teeming with thousands of large gristly eyes staring back at her from the shadows. Lucy shuddered, then looked up to the evening sky for a few moments. With new composure she continued walking through the grove.
The knight dashed in front of her and stopped, standing in her way with his arms outstretched as if ready for an embrace or tackle. You must return now, Madame, you don’t understand how important this is! Lucy shut her eyes and shook her head annoyedly.
“There are worse beasts in that castle, you know, she muttered.
The knight looked at her. Yes, yes there are. But those are beasts that you must confront, it is of the utmost importance to the kingdom and all its people that you. Lucy suddenly shoved the knight aside and bolted down the path. The knight looked after her as she disappeared into the thickets, and his eyes faded.
Lucy ran and ran frantically by muscular spasms in her legs that she could not stop. But eventually exhaustion took her, and she fell lopsidedly to the ground. The dirt was soft and warm, and she began to bask and roll around in its comfort. Then she refocused her eyes, finding a familiar castle above her. Lucy wearily rose to her feet and began to walk along the tall, stony cold castle walls. She reached out her hand and scratched it across the surface of the wall’s rough surface. She could feel intricate fossils with which the wall was embossed — each giant stone was covered in colorful spirals and spikes so small she could barely see them. Eventually she felt a break in the surface. She was at the entrance.
Lucy timidly walked through the tall slit in the wall that was the entrance corridor. It was very dark in the middle part of the entrance, and by the time she got to the other end the only light left was moonlight. The streets of the castle’s inner keep were empty, and all windows and doors to the neighborly dwellings had been removed so there was no one in sight. Lucy slowly walked the perimeter of the castle, dreading with every moment her duty to do what she must that night.
After traversing the empty courtyard, she had arrived at the inner tower. She opened its small wooden door and shuffled inside. The carpeted spiral steps extended her vision around the winding corner, so as she climbed them it felt like she was staying in place, or even going backwards. Her eyes felt sleepy, and her eyelids kept drooping, sometimes so low they started to slip inside her eye socket to wrap around. Finally she made it to the top floor. Looking out the tower window, she could see she was much higher than the clouds, and the moon in the sky looked so big and crisply detailed that it was almost within reach.
A single figure across from her on the tower drew her attention. His face was hard to discern as it loomed above her. The figure stepped toward her, standing in the center of the tower’s platform. Lucy, are you there? If you can hear me, blink your eyes. Don’t try to move. Lucy glared at the figure.
“Why do you want me here? Why must I blink my eyes?” Lucy asked of the figure.
The figure said nothing in response — instead he started pacing back and forth between the tower parapets. A gust of wind picked up, like the inside of a vacuum. The air felt thinner and colder and harder. The figure tumbled over the edge of the tower, and the moon seemed to sway in the current. Lucy ducked down and held on to the wooden boards of the tower’s platform. She was short of breath from shock and the air being drained away in such a flurry. The moon rocked closer on a pendulum-like collision course with the tower. Lucy crawled towards the downward stairs, climbed across the boards as if they were vertical. But her grip was weak, and the vacuum was too strong.
Lucy felt her body scrape along the platform as her grasp faded, and then how it ricocheted off the side of a parapet on its way over the edge. She felt her battered, weightless form plummet towards the castle grounds as the moon demolished the tower above her, sparking bright shards of light in every direction. She winced as her eyes were seared through her eyelids, but her arms were too weak to pull up her hands to block it.
The ground arrived more suddenly than she expected. Lucy felt an incredible weight strapping her to the small indentation where she landed, as if a powerful magnet was dragging her downward. The remains of her smashed body were a brittle metallic material, with a flexibility only revealed under intense heat. She dared not open her eyes and lay very still.
A gigantic column erupted next to her with a voice booming incomprehensibly. Lucy desperately writhed in the sunken earth to get free, but every turn drew her deeper into the surface. Lucy! Grab her leg! the voice boomed.
The clouds suddenly parted with a flash, revealing a harsh rainbow that scorched Lucy’s figure and the entire grounds around her. The light was brighter than the Moon, the shining felt like it was permeating her optic nerves directly without any filter from her eyelids or even iris. The light spilling out of the sky burned away her surroundings until it was so washed that it appeared as a dark background to the prismatic cloud-hole as she squinted, attempting to focus on anything but the light.
The space beyond the clouds gradually split into colored shards of infinitely detailed jaggedness. As they became more distinct, Lucy could see that the shards were pushed by a celestial current — they flowed fluidly around the skyscape in various patterns.
Lucy mustered all of her strength in a final effort to lift her left arm, and she did. It angled out to her side in an abrupt spurt. The back of her hand hit the smooth, cold surface of the giant column next to her. It felt hard and metallic on the back of her hand, but in hitting it she could sense a sort of lively recoil. It was still rumbling slightly.
The shards continued to dance in the sky more and more prominently, and the clouds stopped moving. Lucy tried to find some sort of grip on the column — something, anything to hold on to. She could feel her mind racing, but her heart felt like it had stopped. Lucy wondered if she had fallen to the bottom of a lake and was drowning. She blinked several times, then concentrated on her skin to tell if it was wet. After a few moments of considering her sensations, she determined that she was not wet, and so probably wasn’t drowning.
Lucy noticed that the small crater in the ground she had made had started to feel more comfortable. A warm sensation developed in her arm, and then it traveled up to her shoulders, and down her back. Lucy’s neck relaxed slightly.
The shards in the sky slowly began to fade more and more into obscurity, and the light’s intensity faded. The clouds moved slightly to cover up the hole, but still left a large oval opening by the time they were still again. Lucy took several deep breaths, absentmindedly patting the spirited column. But, between pats, it precipitously disappeared.
Instinctively, Lucy turned her head to see what had happened to the column. There was nothing, but she realized she could now turn her head again. She lifted her other arm carefully out of the crater she had made for herself. The movement felt bulky and awkward, but still possible.
Lucy rolled effortfully onto her side, out of the crater at last. She dared to glance upward, and saw that there were still precise shards swirling around in the oval cloud-hole. Though not nearly as blinding as before. She finally arose to her feet and looked around. None of the buildings appeared to be damaged, and there wasn’t even any sign of column that had been right next to her. She peered up at the tower, where she saw that in place of the highest part where she had been was a ruined stump, but it was difficult to see where the debris had gone.
Once she regained her composure, Lucy began walking away from the castle as briskly as she could, which was not very briskly as her body felt oblong and heavy somehow. After only a few minutes of trying to manage lumbering along, she was greeted again by the knight she dreaded but now could not escape. Oh madame, I am sorry you fell off the tower, that was very unfortunate. But it is good that you completed your task for us. That is all the kingdom requires.
“At least I am done with it, though I am still recovering. But I am also through with this kingdom as well. I’m leaving, and I do not know when I shall return,” said Lucy.
The knight shook his head solemnly. A priest was walking by, and then he recognized Lucy. The whole kingdom’s citizenry thanks you, your Highness. The sky is re-opened and so the endless darkness is banished! exclaimed the priest.
Lucy turned back to her knight, “I don’t know if I can do it again, the next time.”
The knight took a concerned look for a moment, then resolved. You do need some time away, Madame. But do not worry yourself, I have consulted the astronomers and they say the sky will be stable for many months this time before it needs to be re-opened. said Lucy’s knight. In the meantime, your leave has been arranged already. There is an outpost at seven-day’s travel along the river where you can stay. We have trained a interim Queen to subsume your administrative duties while you are away.
“You knew that I would be leaving?”
Lucy’s knight glanced up at the tower. We knew that it would be good for you, Madame.
Lucy started her journey the next day. A pair of servants traveled with her, all on horseback, to help carry supplies. Even though her body was still sluggish and heavy, the powerful movement of her mount helped her forget. During the days as they rode, Lucy avoided looking at the sky-hole, but couldn’t help glancing at it every so often. The shards showed wildly different patterns every time she looked. Sometimes there were blacks and grays with intermittent flashings. Sometimes there were greens and whites with barely any flowing at all.
During the nights, Lucy would lie on her back and stare straight into the sky hole. The light was not painful, but with no moon left, the sky hole was an ever-present glow in the dark, as if it was always dawn. She found herself finding constellations in the shards, connecting them to form animals, people, buildings. With all of the movement, it was easy to impart agency to the shards as if they moved themselves around and were doing things to interact with other shards. The sky hole loomed imposingly in her mind as she slept.
Arrival at the outpost began a cycle of perfect daily monotony. Each morning, Lucy would sit on the small beach and perpendicularly look out over the river for several hours. The servants and soldiers that maintained the outpost would sometimes cross her view or talk about her quietly in her periphery, but after a few days she ceased to notice. During these hours Lucy developed a relaxing sense of unity with the river’s current. When the thick water would often splash over the river banks, she could sense it right before it happened like it was connected to something instinctual in her, or even caused by her in some way. Eventually Lucy would say she became nauseous with an advancing headache, and so each evening she would retreat inside the outpost to attend to any recent letters and any royal judicial duties.
In the remaining hours of the evening, after deciding the day’s last questions of royal sentencing, Lucy sometimes would take out a fresh piece of parchment to begin personal writings. For an hour or so those evenings, she would write about whatever came to mind. Sometimes it was the beginning of a story about a young version of herself growing up in a large city, her parents helping her prepare to apply for the best elementary schools. Sometimes the writing appeared to be scribbles in a pulsing pattern. Sometimes the writing was of something crucially and urgently important, but when Lucy finished writing it she could not discern out which letters were which on the pages.
A few weeks after Lucy arrived at the outpost, she awoke one morning to a pleasant sensation she thought she might never have again — the heaviness that had burdened her since the sky opening had disappeared entirely. Perhaps it had waned gradually and she hadn’t noticed, but this morning was very evidently different. Lucy sat on the beach as always, but this time basking in a new vitality. She barely noticed that her incorporeality weakened her sense of unity with the river’s current now, as if the river was trying to grasp on to her but her reception kept slipping through its fingers. Your majesty, please let us have your council, said a soldier waiting patiently behind Lucy. Lucy took a few moments to collect herself, then stood for the soldier. They walked to a large chamber where the outpost’s officer was stationed.
We have received word from the kingdom that you are direly needed to return very soon. As it had been over four months since your arrival, this was expected. We shall prepare a return party for you to leave with in the morning. said the officer robotically. Lucy nodded, then returned to her beach. As she crossed to the sand, she noticed that the sky hole had shrunken substantially since her the last time she had looked. The swirling shards in the small hole were dim and indistinct against a heavy gray background of the overcast stretching indefinitely in all directions.
In the evening, Lucy felt compelled to write earlier than usual. She cast aside her duties and stared intently at a blank parchment. Lucy stood, taking the parchment in one hand and her quill in the other. Lucy wrote
“I won’t go back and I have no duty to that kingdom. I walk directly out of my room and straight into the forest.
A few servants stare at me confusedly as I walk into the night. I continue walking. And walking. The forest is almost entirely dark, with no moon and with such dim shards. I can’t avoid tripping over the gnarled roots and shrubs. I continue walking. Walking feels effortless now — now that I am not cursed with lethargy. I can walk forever…
After walking for several days and nights, I have found the end of the river. There is nothing of note here where the river seeps into the crevices of the ground except for the surprising viscosity of the warm mud…
I am not sure how long I have walked till now, but I have arrived in a wasteland with a single tree. The tree is a marbled white with no leaves and a trunk so tall that it stretches into the clouds further than I can see…
This morning I noticed that the sky hole has disappeared. I can still see the black ink as I write it, but I have found any previous entries to now be indistinguishable from the black parchment. I have no way to find light now, here where I have taken refuge with my back to the tree that’s whiteness still stands out in the night. I have attempted to climb it, but my arms have lost much strength and it is an impossible task while carrying this parchment and quill — I am afraid that if I drop these items that I will never find them again…
The ground below me feels different. It was certainly hard barren ground when I first arrived, but now my legs feel embedded in a soft, warm gel. Though I haven’t moved them in longer than I can remember. It has not rained, and I cannot see the ground clearly enough to tell the cause. My body feels slightly cold, so it is a comfortable sensation, and I decide to lay my back down to the ground. The warmth spreads up my legs and back and down my arms…”