The room is cold tonight, I’m not sure how that works but I feel like it’s something to do with what happened before I came here. As usual I’ll start from when I opened my eyes this morning.
Waking up sucked, more so than the morning I woke up in that pit cage the day I met Mikado, and even worse than his breath breaking my sleep the previous night.
I felt myself being dragged by the feet. The dry ground kicked up dust and stones as I struggled and twisted to get myself free from my bindings. I noticed Mikado and Czarina were with me; passed out, but obviously breathing. I was relieved, mainly because I was scared to face whatever was strong enough to drag the three of us with such ease.
A rock the size of a pillow slides under Mikado’s head as we track. It lifts it for only a second before slamming it down on the stiff sphere surface.
He wakes up.
Instantly in pain, and looking around frantically for the culprit. All I could do was laugh. His hands were bound, he was in shock, but then he seen me and a sense of ease came to his face. His easement was short lived though, when he looked to what was dragging us.
Until then I hadn’t even wanted to look. But the terror that crippled his face compelled me to. I wish I never knew. Mikado let out an awesome roar that squeaked at its forceful peak. I looked and saw a man, but something was off, the proportions were wrong. There were mirage waves at his feet as the morning sun began to cook the arid Scar’s land.
Mikado’s scream reached the man, he stopped and slowly stepped towards us, his extended gait was rumbling the ground. Czarina snapped into consciousness. She rustled around, kicking her legs wildly at Mikado across my body. “YOU! Why do YOU always bring chaos to my peace?!” She yelled. Mikado was unflinchingly staring at the man approaching us. Czarina’s fury dwindled, her pouty face caught a glance at what we were all looking at.
With each stride, the man grew larger. Czarina squealed through her frozen-with-fear lips. I was scared too. Was he going to eat us? Squash us? Feed us to his equally giant pets as a treat?
Before another fantasy could enter my mind, he was towering above us. His hair was bone white, his face withered like an old tree branch under his lengthy beard. He knelt closer to us, whirlwinds kicked up in the dust.
“You must be Fifty metres tall” I said, in utter disbelief of my sight. The brusqueness of his voice still crackles in my memory “Fifty metres exactly! Have you not heard the tales? None bigger, none smaller. My uncle claimed to be Fifty-one, but he was not known for his sound mind.”
None of us replied.
I think we were all expecting to be crushed by now. He scratched his head, his face scrunched, he must have thought we were mute. “You three tumbled hard, it’s a miracle you’re alive.” He continued awkwardly.
“Back away would you!…” Czarina barked “…Your breath is rotten” She stated. His hand shot up to cover his mouth and the Fifty metre man flopped backward to his bottom, rumbling the ground and increasing the distance between he and us. From behind his gargantuan hand he spoke with a stifle. “My breath is rotten but your words are foul young’un”
Mikado laughed, I tried to hide it but a smirk took hold of my cheeks too. “Whoa Czary, the big man’s got words” Mikado joked. “Yeah you talk real big, don’t you, frightening a small girl like that.” She said, only just loud enough for him to hear.
“HA HA HA…” He bawled “I’m Fifty metres tall, I walk big, talk big, and when impudent children are rude, I tend to sneeze big” He grinned. She fell silent and looked away “Sorry about her…” Mikado started “…She has that effect on people, doesn’t matter how big they are. It’s why I love her.” Czarina scoffed.
“You spoke of being rude, but you haven’t even introduced yourself” I said to the Fifty metre man. “ He apologised with his hands. “There’s no malice. I’m Caldera Kaiser. Lord of the Sphere Scar. What are your names?”
“I’m Reks Twelve, that’s Mikado, and the impudent one is Czarina. We’ve set out on the Sovereign Stride.”
Caldera finger-combed his beard “The Sovereign Stride eh?…” He trailed off into a mumble. “…And just left us here…” Came a grumble through his beard. “…His final command repeating in our heads: ‘Dig the scar, and then die in it.’…” He concluded whisperingly.
Caldera’s eyes were visibly glazed over and his face gurned with the thought of something only his mind’s eye would know the sight of.
He returned his stare to us “All Striders since the last King have ended up in my village”
I was almost lost for words “My great grandmother! She was the last one to make it to Sovereign City!” I said.
“Oh? We did see her, but I’m sorry to say she was unable to set any new laws, and we did not see her return.” He told me.
“It’s okay, the people of Tor are born into loss like that… Wait, you said we? Does that mean there’s more of you?” Caldera rocked back and forth and chuckled.
“No, no, no, none like me. I’m the last of the King’s guard, the last of the Fifty-Metre-men. Caldera: My village, is full of the fearful, the woeful, and wanderers, who once thought The Sphere had given up on them. They jumped into The Scar just as you did, and were caught by the roots just as you were. I’ve been dragging you there since I found you.”
“Just to be clear…” Mikado perked “…You’re not going to eat us, right?” Another hearty laugh boomed from the giant man. “Oh goodness no, I haven’t eaten meat in fifty years, I lost the taste for it after the last King” He replied.
Czarina sprang up.
“If you’re not going to eat us, then why are our hands bound?” Caldera swooped his head down close to Czarina’s face “You are strangers in my domain, I cannot yet trust you, but if you prove yourself to my town I will aid you in your Stride.”
I was filled with excitement, none of my schooling, none of the stories I had heard of the Sphere Scar ever mentioned a nomad town of misadventurers. I’m glad I have the chance to tell the story, even if it may never reach the people of Tor.
Caldera Kaiser stood and continued his walk, dragging us behind him.
It wasn’t until the sun was right above us in the sky that we reached Caldera. I felt like I had sat too close to a fire, my skin was dry and flaky. I looked to Mikado, he was the same, dry crusty bits formed at the sides of his mouth. Czarina on the other hand, was glowing, her skin loved the sun, bathed in it as though it energised her.
We stopped skidding across the ground and hazily Mikado and I looked around, Czarina stood up with ease. Some people came upon us suddenly, their clothes were ragged and faces dusty. They picked us up and carried us into their town. It was a sight beyond imagination; an oasis in The Scar. It was built up against the vine clad wall that lead to Sovereign City. The cliff wall towered into the sky at least ten kilometres. The view gave me chills at the thought of climbing it.
It really was a beautiful place; Caldera. Clay huts built in varying shapes and sizes. each decorated with the same blue pigment as the flowers on the vines plastered all over the cliff face. Smoke slipped easily from the little chimneys atop their golden Scar-sand roofs.
At the town’s centre was the trickling remains of a once grand waterfall, with a well at its base. I watched some of the people pull buckets of sandy slop from its depths, and strain it through a cloth into a cup to drink. I knew at that moment, the task at hand.
Caldera Kaiser hovered over the village, casting a grand shadow, bringing a slight reprieve from the midday sun. He watched as his people took us towards the well at the base of the waterfall. The villagers poked and grabbed at us as they coerced us through the streets. Their busy hands untied our bonds, and by the time we were at the well, our clothes, our weapons and our packs were gone.
They pushed us to the front of the mob, their crusty bodies dropped to our feet. They were pleading to us. Tears made mud as they trailed down their cheeks. The kids were yelling, it was hard to understand them all at once, but the message came through strong.
Caldera stepped over all the misshapen buildings to join his townfolk beside the waterfall “My family, please calm down, we must keep our heads… Reks, Mikado, Czarina, we need your help to restore our water” Czarina pushed through from behind Mikado and myself, where she’d been hiding. Her impulsive mind overruled her shyness. “Hey what’s the big idea taking our clothes and our things, dragging us and pushing us around all over the place, is this how you treat all your guests?”
“Young Czarina, we were merely restoring equality to the town. Without your possessions, you can see that everyone is equal here, equally hungry, equally thirsty, equally naked, and equally in need of your help. We need you to see the scar from our perspective, not a passing glance, but an immersive stare, with all your senses. I know that one of you is likely to become the new Sovereignty, and whatever you decide to do with that role is up to you, but if you wish to be a true leader you must help those at the lowest part of your kingdom. That is us. Will you help us?”
Even though they were silent, I could see the pleas of the villagers scream through every pore and crease in the skin on their faces, they needed us, and for me at least, I needed them. Czarina turned to look us both in the eye. “I’m sorry guys, I’ve been rash, too busy building my utopia, that I blinded myself from the dystopia that’s been going on outside. Reks we have to help them.” We both looked at Mikado who was in a stupor, staring at Czarina’s body. I left him that way, I knew he wanted to follow me, so I spoke for him. “We accept this task Caldera” His silver beard stretched with a smile of relief.
“Good, good… Hurry now. The waterfall is being choked from above, I’ll send you up there and you’ll fix the problem. When the water flows again, you’ll get your possessions back and I’ll aid your travels through the Diamond Gates.” He told us, and the way he said it felt very immediate. By this time Mikado had snapped out of his mindless stare “When you say send, how are you planning to ‘send’ us?”
“Climb onto my hand, I’ll take you to the device we used to get in and out of here when we were digging this place.” Sceptically Mikado climbed on, then I helped Czarina up and climbed on as well. Caldera lifted us into the air, we slammed down into his palm. He walked us ten of his paces and stopped right by a giant pillar of rock and twinkling diamond. He looked at us with his arm extended. “This is how I’m going to help you.” We all looked up, and atop the gargantuan column, was the third Diamond Gate. “Hurry back.” Was the last thing he said to us, before turning his sight to the wall and throwing us with all his might.
I thought I was going to turn inside out at the speed we were travelling. We passed through the third Diamond Gate in a blink. My eyes watered and my lips, along with my other appendages, were flapping around ferociously in the wind. We passed through the fourth Diamond Gate. The peak of our flight met, only just, with the canopy of the jungle on the other side of the Sphere Scar. I spotted a tower in the distance, it was blurred from my tears but I knew it was Sovereign City. We fell through the trees, and apart from the branches scratching us and knocking us around, we landed on the jungle floor safely. Lucky for us it had been padded with the discarded foliage of the last seventy years.
Mikado sprang up first, I was a little woozy, but Czarina had passed out at some point in our flight. The jungle canopy shaded us, it was dim green like a moonlit night. Mikado was on guard, he’d grabbed a rock, I looked for a weapon as well, while searching I saw shadows darting around us in the trees. I couldn’t hear them moving, they had to have been quieter than the sway of a branch.
One second later it was black.
The shadows had grabbed us.
And then I was here again, alone. Nothing had changed in this room, only my level of apprehension to face the next day’s mysteries.