Chain Writing 2023: The Complete Story
By Seven Wonderful Chain Writers (edited by Spritelady)
Our chain writing tale is now complete, and I would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who took part (who are more than welcome to lay claim to their writing below, or leave it a mystery!). I really appreciate everyone's time and effort, and especially that everyone managed to return their writing well before the deadlines!
I think we have a really interesting story, and I'd love to hear everyone's thoughts. So without further ado, our fantasy tale...
There was time to spare, for once, but that night’s journey was still uneasy.
Following her companion, the stocky little woman crept through unlit passageways with a level of quiet, slow purpose more usually reserved for snails than people. Light was not an option. Talking was not an option. Breathing was just about acceptable, as long as she held the imagined death-stare of a librarian in her mind to ensure, with withering glances, that she kept the noise down.
She adjusted her pince-nez and re-pinned a stray grey braid as she walked: there was no need for haste, and keeping her hands quietly busy helped with the nerves. The route was cool, even airy, but a nervous sweat still moistened her hands.
It took another hour of twists, turns, circles – some passages only opened if one went round a loop twice, or shut certain routes once every 20 minutes – but with her guide ahead of her, these were merely rituals rather than problems. She just had to be quiet enough not to attract undue attention: and as she’d never been good at attracting attention when it was frankly more than due, this was just fine.
At last, she gingerly stretched her legs down a ladder – this place felt built for someone at least half a foot taller, if built was even the correct term. There was light, finally: the woman and her guide saw each other, curiosity and fear mingled between them, for the first time. They had arrived.
“We can speak now. The guardians will not detect us here.” Her companion said.
The woman’s eyes widened as it threw back its hood. They had not known each other long, but she still found the appearance strange. Her guide was a birdlike creature, covered in crimson feathers. It had a curved, blue beak and tiny black eyes. Eyes that were fixated on what lay before them.
Dim green light was emanating from an immense golden cube in the middle of the cavernous room they found themselves in. Its sides were alive with glittering ornate glyphs which held unknown meaning. On each side of the cube were set four huge doors, each inlaid with a fist sized, glowing emerald.
Finally, she had found it. It was the device! She shuddered, thinking of the amazing and terrible things that could be done with it.
“Was it you that sent me the message about this?” The woman asked apprehensively, finally tearing her gaze away from the device.
“Yes, Briyya'' It said. Its beaked mouth was clumsy with her name. “You are the one who can operate it.”
It was a statement, not a question. She had spent many years in the unseen corners of bookshops and libraries reading endless texts in the hopes of finding any mention of this mythical item. Her persistence had not been in vain. Nobody knew it better than her.
She gave a reluctant nod.
She pressed her left hand firmly against one of the emeralds. It was cold to the touch, yet glowing with heat. A wave of relaxation and a surge of energy hit her at the same time.
She said the words that she had practised a thousand times, her hand on a pomelo pressed against the kitchen wall. Hesitant at first, then louder, then chanting.
With her other hand on the door, she pushed. It gave way, not hinging but straight inward, as if carving a tunnel through solid gold. With her first step into the cube the pain started. Not nearly as bad as the scriptures had led her to believe. Her second step made her falter a little, but she knew she had to press on.
By now the pain was intense. Looking back she saw how far she had gone, the entrance a speck of light. It was excruciating, like being ripped apart, skin burning, blood boiling, bones twisting. She pushed on, her hand still on the emerald. No, in it. Past it. She entered the emerald, became it, its infinite reflections were her own, until finally she was reborn, stepping out all four sides of the cube.
Looking over one shoulder, then the other, she saw herselves. She was her body, cold but strong. She was her spirit, burning and free. She was her blood, flowing beautifully. She was her bones, crackling with power.
“Time to get to work,” she said in unison.
Arrakam watched the human disappear into darkness and allowed himself a sigh of relief. He had worked for centuries to reach this point: hiding in the shadows of the human cities above; learning their language; stealing the materials he needed for his forgeries. "Scriptures" they called them, gullible creatures! He needed them no more: the Host - his Host - would soon emerge. He hoped there would be time for a little conversation with someone he respected.
At that moment, he heard footsteps in the corridor above him; he recognised them even after a millennium of separation. His sister Arrasai flung herself down the ladder and landed crouching, feathers erect and talons outstretched. Her eyes found his.
"Arrakam," she breathed, "What have you done?"
"It's good to see you too, sister," he replied, "I have released us from our imprisonment."
"You have broken our oath!"
"Not so. Our purpose is to protect the Dako from misuse by our own kind."
Arrasai hesitated for a moment, then approached the door. The light from the Dako was growing brighter by the minute, but the doorway remained shrouded in darkness.
"You put a human inside," she said, turning to face him again. "You know its brain can't cope."
"They were once little more than animals," he replied, "But they have grown to embrace power, even as we fear it. This will suffice."
“What happened to you, Arrakam?” she asked with a quivering voice. “You’re barely anything like the Xellian I remember. You think I haven’t heard of everything you’ve been doing?”
A sneer crossed Arrakam’s face.
“What does it even matter? You come to lecture me, and call me oathbreaker? You think I enjoy this? Do you think that lowly of me? I am simply willing to do what must be done, even if it means not playing by their stupid rules anymore.”
“So, it's all about trickery to you?”
“No, no... I detest trickery. But if we ourselves are to suffer deception, our hands are no longer tied. I’m sick of these false moral shackles. ”
“If you’d prefer shackles of the iron variety, that can be arranged,” Arrasai hissed. “Imprisonment would be a merciful sentence for your crimes.”
Arrakam ruffled his feathers in impatience.
“The threat of punishment hasn’t deterred me during my centuries of planning. Why should it stay my talons now, on the brink of victory? If you want to report me to the guardians, go fetch them and leave me to my work.”
Arrasai sprang forward, her beak clicking in an aggressive battle cry. Arrakam widened his stance and prepared to ward off his sister’s attack. They both noticed the changing light from the Dako at the same moment and stopped to stare.
The Host was emerging.
Briyya’s many hands were a blur as they tapped the glyphs in a complex, rapid pattern. The interior of the cube flashed with thousands of faces, hummed with thousands of voices speaking a cacophony of dead languages she did not know. Yet Briyya could understand the meaning of the words in a corner of her consciousness which no longer belonged, entirely, to her.
Briyya was an elder by human standards, but she sensed the presence of much older minds swirling inside the Dako. The wisdom, prowess, and charisma of untold generations were preserved here, waiting to be channelled into a living vessel.
“Who shall I try on first?” she mused. But this was merely a rhetorical question, for one voice called to her louder than all the others. She knew who she must become.
Briyya now knew what the Dako was: knowledge. An archive with infinite revolutionary minds. She recognized some of them: Secundus the Silent, Beyonce. And the one who called to her: Seraphina, the librarian who’d protected the library of Xenaxos with her fiery blade. Briyya was a fan.
She spread her arms in the thick nothingness that surrounded her and whispered, “Seraphina, come to me,” until she felt a slow dislodging of her mind. They were ready.
The two Xellians were peering at the figure emerging from the blinding light. “You are going to be in so much trouble,” Arrasai hissed, whacking her brother’s arm with a feathery slap.
“Be silent,” Arrakam said, “and observe- we shall be free.” She narrowed her beady eyes at him.
“You’re allowed to act out at this age, but this is too much. You swore to mum a millennium ago that you would stop this!” Arrakam now turned to her, irritably. Just because he was going through puberty, people thought they could boss him around.
“You do not know what I have to endure-”
“High school isn’t fun for anyone, Arrakam! We’re not imprisoned, you-”
Before they could continue the family argument that had started 2000 years ago, they were interrupted by someone clearing their throat.
“The Host,” Arrakam breathed. He spun around to meet his saviour- and froze.
There was an old lady. With Briyya’s pince-nez. And a flaming letter opener.
“Hello. I am Seraphina. Is there a bathroom around? I haven’t had a bladder in some time,” she said calmly. Arrakam blinked.
“You are the Host?”
“The host? This is certainly not my home. Who’s that behind you?”
“Are you here to incinerate my enemies? And… get me out of school?” the birdling tried. Arrasai was suppressing laughter. Seraphina straightened her back.
“No, I thought I might continue my research with Briyya. Or perhaps… bake a cake.” Arrakam buried his talons in his legs, pulling out feathers in the rage rising inside him.
“Are you alright, son? Perhaps some tea?” Seraphina asked.
“You have got to be f*cking kidding me!” Arrakam screeched.