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Sand Castles – Lightspeed Magazine

They met day-drinking.

It was chilly and wet, not fairly raining but threatening to, in the best way that storms do even once they don’t then intend on getting on with it; and though they each may need spent the day in a bar anyway, this one lent itself to being spent indoors and the environment simply sort of lent itself to consuming.

It was late morning once they started, the first clients in a small-town nook joint that also smelled of the night time earlier than. They have been at reverse ends of the bar and what with one thing or another they struck up a dialog. It just turned simpler to take a seat collectively, despite the fact that neither one among them had begun the day in search of somebody to spend time with. They have been both well-versed in the drinker’s talent of sustaining the fitting buzz by neither consuming an excessive amount of or too little, and it didn’t matter to either one of them that the opposite was lower than good company for some other event, or that they each smoked too much.

His identify was Loren. Hers was Lauren. This struck them as disproportionately hilarious they usually pointed it out to everyone who got here in and sat anyplace near them. It turned out that they’d both been married and divorced, that they both had grown youngsters they didn’t converse with much, and that they’d each lived on the town all their lives, apart from her two years as a failed school scholar and his as a fuckup soldier. Their failure to ever meet up with each other before also struck them as disproportionately hilarious, enough that they drank to it, and this too went on for some time until he stated,

“I like you.”

She stated, “You’re okay.”

“That the best compliment you can give?”

“It’s a perfectly fine compliment. You’re a funny guy.”

“Ha. That’s the way I like to be remembered. A funny guy. Like I’m spinning at high speeds and tossing out witticisms like shrapnel.” He shook his head. “But there’s a bit of an insult hidden behind that compliment, isn’t there?”

“Far as I’m concerned, it just means you’re a funny guy.”

“You ever see that old movie, Goodfellas?”

“I don’t give a shit about movies.”

“Bunch of Mafia guys, carousing in a bar. One calls another a funny guy and for a minute there it looks like he’s gonna take serious offense. You wonder if someone’s gonna get shot or something.”

“All I know is I never heard of it. I just meant you’re a funny guy.”

He stated, “I’ll take it, I guess.”

“Imagine my relief.”

Then he stated, “Hey, you ever see the castle?”

“What castle?”

“You know. The one everyone’s been talking about. Out by the water.”

She made a foggy connection. That factor. She remembered individuals talking about it, some last night time in this very room. “Been thinking of a taking a look. Too many things to do.”

He stated, “It looks like rain. Phil, don’t you think it looks like rain?”

The institution’s home windows have been too tinted to allow straightforward transparency, delegating all critical assessments of the weather to that category of patron prepared to go outdoors and lookup, but Phil the day bartender had long since discovered that with a certain different class of patron, reflexive settlement was the simplest route to peace. “Yeah, been that way.”

Loren stated, “We wait too long, rain’s gonna frickin’ destroy the thing.”

Lauren stated, “So?”

“So what is it? Three blocks to the beach? We should take a look while we have a chance.”

She examined her drink, which was one quick swallow from extinction. In fact, that failed to think about the drink she might have subsequent, which some a part of her already mourned. And then, the automated thought got here, one after that, and this was a pleasant prospect, however part of her remembered those previous days when alcohol had been the path to spontaneity, the lubrication that had made her unpredictable, as an alternative of the presence who might be counted on to still be perched on the identical stool, two or three hours from now. An unscheduled trip to go see a fort struck her as a effective tribute to her vanished whimsicality. “Yeah, sure.”

They left the bar and began heading towards the shore. It was a waterfront city that all the time smelled of sea breezes, one that all the time lived by the climate that got here rolling in from the water; one that, upon turning chilly, really turned chilly, which is why the air now wore on their bones like a coat that had been soaked in brine earlier than being donned wet. To the extent that both Loren or Lauren ever noted modifications within the climate, that they had each noted that the weather had held this manner for almost ten days, without ever congealing into rainfall; but yes, Phil had been proper. Positive. It did positive as hell appear to be rain.

They made it to the place the place the street dead-ended in a picket barrier, simply before a strip of tall grass separating the inhabited streets from the seashore. A number of moments spent on the slender sandy path that reduce between pavement and sand, they reached the seashore, the place grey water lapped towards the shore, depositing seaweed and different particles.

Right here, on the seashore, sat an immense sand fort.

It had been sculpted over the course of three frenzied days by a workforce of artists who had seen match to turn out to be world-class rivals at that pleasant however largely irrelevant talent, who had come to the seashore on the tail end of warm climate to create an ephemeral masterwork. Crowds had gathered to observe the development in delight. There had been newspaper tales, TV information segments, the inevitable YouTube movies, all in service of this local sensation that might soften right into a shapeless spoil on the first substantial rain. Virtually everyone who lived within walking and driving distance, who had any sense of caprice or marvel at all, had already come to see it, simply to document the location inside their very own grey matter; then the climate had modified, and the crowds had thinned, abandoning it to its inevitable destruction by the elements.

It was immense, by the usual of such issues. It was surrounded by a four-foot wall, sculpted to simulate brickwork. A slender walkway beneath a low arch—still intact—simulated the drawbridge over a moat. There was a sign on a stick there, studying, PLEASE KEEP OUT! SCULPTURE IS FRAGILE! Inside, after a courtyard, stood the fort, ten ft excessive, an intricate structure with towers and ramparts and home windows. A portico gate, guarded by two sand-figures standing at both aspect, was down, barred entrance to the internal construction, but there was sufficient black area visible via the gaps that it was straightforward to imagine that the extraordinary degree of detail continued inside, full with throne room, royal quarters, and the inevitable scheming of courtiers. The doorway itself was like an arched mouse-hole, simply giant sufficient that if the portico ever lifted, it was additionally potential to imagine getting into the inside on palms and knees.

Lauren hadn’t given any thought to what her reaction to this place can be—delicate amusement, perhaps—but was unprepared for what it truly was: unhappiness. This fort might have been a whimsical folly, however it was additionally a monument to anyone’s enthusiasm, to the enjoyment that they had taken in the effort to supply something that, nevertheless short-lived, however gave pleasure to those that beheld it. She could not assist but contrast it to her own every day existence, the alimony that supported her, the part-time job that picked up the slack (and that she was about to lose), the grown youngsters who had lives of their very own and who had sworn off letting her into them. This was a place the place anyone had shared a form of joy, and it struck her as an affront to her personal existence, which had grow to be an train in numbing herself. The thought put her in vital danger of getting sloppy.

Loren stated, “I’m telling you, somebody needed to get a life.”

She realized that he’d introduced them right here hoping that they might each then giggle at it, and paired together with her last thoughts this made her apathetic acceptance of the man flip into a type of virulent dislike. “Why?”

“I mean, it’s impressive and everything, but it’s still a stupid waste of effort that’s going to melt away after the next storm. Look, I didn’t mean anything by it. Want a shot?”

“You carrying?”

He produced a flask with a hearty ta-daa, she joined him in a drink, and the 2 of them drank to the dominion of sand. It was the sort of drink that left her feeling thirstier, as so lots of them have been lately. Sating that thirst was a challenge much more ephemeral than this challenge of sand might ever be.

Then he stated, “Let’s head back.”

The inevitable remainder of the day stretched out before her before a weather-beaten previous melody, one heard too many occasions to still perceive as music.

“I think I’ll stay a while.”

“Are you kidding? It’s pretty and everything, but I’ve pretty much sucked all the possible enjoyment out of it.”

She stated, “I haven’t.”

His eyebrows furrowed, the best way those of a certain subspecies of man do when confronted with something beyond comprehension. It was the precursor to affront, and affront could possibly be the precursor to anything from calling her a bitch and storming off, to erupting into violence. Perhaps he’d thought she’d comply with him house for a quickie. Perhaps he’d select as secondary choice raping and murdering her proper now. While those brows remained furrowed, each outcomes appeared equally doubtless.

She stated, “Go back to the bar, if you want. I’ll be back in about twenty minutes.”

“What are you going to do in the sand for twenty minutes?”

“I just want to, you know, take this in a little longer.”

That look of affront once more. “Why?”

“Look. I just want to be alone for a bit.”

Again, it might have gone either means, and once more, she spent that heartbeat ready to see how he would fall. Then he rolled his eyes, mumbled one thing to the effect that she might do what she needed, and left her there. She watched him go, this man with the identify like hers, watched him return to the strip of grass separated the seashore from the town streets, his gait just a little unsteady, as hers have to be, and in that second it occurred to her that she knew precisely what his life had been, and what it might be, right down to the day his cooling body was found on some naked urine-soaked mattress. He had seven years, she knew. Solely seven. It was a ridiculous and wholly uncharacteristic moment of clairvoyance, and possibilities have been that it wasn’t even near accurate; hell, if she’d ever been capable of inform the longer term, she doubtless wouldn’t have gotten married, had youngsters, or allowed herself to be purchased her first drink. She would have purchased more lottery tickets but wasted less of her money on mistaken numbers. It was just a momentary whimsy. However for the moment she had religion in it. Seven years.

She figured she had much less, and she or he didn’t care all that a lot. It had been a while since her own life had been any goddamned fun. Some days, oblivion was the one satisfaction value having.

Sighing, she turned her consideration again to the portcullis, particularly those dark areas behind the grillwork, and particularly to those black areas between the vertical and horizontal bars, spaces so black that to her eyes they licensed deeper chambers beyond. She squinted to make the most effective use of the out there mild and made out a miniature vestibule, ending in a set of double doors an arm’s-length away. Even there, the place none of the individuals on the seashore might see, the eye to element was extraordinary. The two sand figures standing guard at each side of the door have been both at attention, however there were tiny variations between them, testimony that they have been individuals and never duplicates. She might make out the hinges on both aspect of the door, even a few of the wood grain on the door itself. A skinny line of sunshine seen beneath the double doorways seemed to shift, testifying to some motion on the other aspect, and she or he didn’t question what kind of creature should have been shifting within the chamber beyond: a mouse, a sand crab, even slightly knight-errant. She solely knew that there needed to be one, and identical to that, it struck her that she wanted to determine it.

She inserted her fingers via the gaps in the grille, and made fists, crumbling that gate into the sand it was manufactured from. An unobstructed view of the double doorways, flooded with relative mild, offered her with the intelligence that they and the guards at both aspect have been every bit as detailed as that they had appeared to be when that view was filtered; even more so. She might make out individual planks in those double doorways, now, and yes, from the shifting mild beneath these doors, something was indeed shifting behind them, little thin patches of darkness that duplicated the best way such mild is interrupted every time it is eclipsed by the passing steps of people. Had she not been just a little drunk, and just a little sloppy about being drunk, she may need noted the thriller however backed off, considering that the last thing she needed to do was intrude with one thing that was none of her enterprise; however she was drunk and she or he did not need to return to the bar or (a part of her realized) to anything that awaited her within the course of her on a regular basis life. And so she squeezed herself into the opening head first, her shoulders scraping the walls and the highest of her head scraping the arched ceiling as she pulled herself ahead, into the darkness.

The armored guards, who had been standing at attention, spears on the prepared, now recoiled. They retreated so far as they might towards the top of the vestibule, and why not? From their viewpoint, the monster earlier than them was an enormous, a factor born of magic and animated by worse things, with lengthy clawed fingers digging deep gouges in the stone flooring as she dragged herself additional down the passage and toward every part they have been pledged to protect. Lesser males may need had their minds shattered at the very sight of her. However theirs was not a world of the true middle ages, not if the fanciful extent of the sculpture round them might be believed; theirs was a world where orcs and dragons must certainly exist, if solely at a take away that required a quest to seek out them. And so, they did what courageous guards in their position would have had to do. They overcame their terror and charged, jabbing their spears into Lauren’s knuckles. For his or her sake, it was just unlucky that the relative solidity of their fantasy weapons, and her flesh, held. Their spears not solely did not penetrate her skin, but in addition disintegrated into their element grains at the very attempt, leaving the 2 courageous guards even more terrified, much more awestruck as she ignored their resistance and, with one other energetic heave, pulled herself nearer to those double doorways.

They swung inward, and a horde of little sand-warriors rushed out, screaming the best way warriors do, shouting phrases in some language Lauren didn’t know that have been clearly orders to die in protection of the king. They swarmed her arms and swarmed her chest and jabbed their little sand-spears into her, or extra correctly at her, as none penetrated. Some went for her face and this was a problem, their substance moving into her mouth or, extra problematic, her eyes, but she flailed her arms and broke legions of the little bastards into their element fragments, until the vestibule she’d invaded was inches-deep in them: a sea of what would have been their viscera, had they possessed viscera and not tightly-packed sand. A couple of who escaped her attain saw no valor in continuing to battle a behemoth who couldn’t be harm, and fled back via the double doors, into the chambers beyond, presumably to help the final stand there. No one barred these doorways, probably as a result of they saw no point. Lauren coughed out a cloud of grit, rammed her clawing fingertips into the tile of the vaster room beyond, and pulled herself onward, breaking via the double doorways and collapsing the adjacent partitions as she burst via into what turned out to be the magnificent area beyond.

It was the throne room, so huge even at its scale that there was greater than enough area for her. It was bigger than it bodily might have been, given the full dimensions of the sand citadel because it existed on the seashore; giant enough to perform as a wonderfully respectable front room, on her own scale. The area that in her personal life would have had a few couches, a low espresso desk festooned with getting old magazines and spam, and the other muddle of her on a regular basis life, was for the little sand-people a cavernous, awe-inspiring cathedral, complete with vaulted ceiling and discrete shafts of light stabbing via the gloom by way of skylights within the sculpted ceiling. Any petitioner from outdoors the fort would have been astounded by the huge emptiness earlier than him, the space between those double doorways and the throne, which occupied an elevated stage on the opposite aspect of the hall; a space meant to intimidate, to terrify ambassadors from lesser kingdoms and to remind any topic that the seated determine surrounded by warriors was their lord and the lord of all he surveyed. Rising to a crouch as soon as she was absolutely contained in the corridor, a short scramble away from the inside powers of the kingdom, Lauren didn’t press her benefit. As an alternative she sat, cross-legged, the sand cold but dry beneath her, and faced that stage.

There were about fifty of them, she supposed, some in armor, some in finery, all gathered near the king, a bearded determine sporting a crown that the sculptors had adorned with jewels, or a minimum of sand-flecks of various and brighter colours. From a distance they evoked rubies and emeralds set in shining gold, they usually gave weight to the little visage of the man beneath, whose precise expression was too small and too distant to learn in much detail, however was probably grim. Lauren was fairly impressed that he was not ordering his guards to whisk him away to some place of safety, however as an alternative remained where he sat, ready to see what the state of affairs required.

“I guess to you I’m like some kind of big scary giant, huh?”

Her phrases rumbled and echoed. They reverberated off the high ceiling, bounced off the flowery tapestries, little question carried past this throne room and through the corridors of power behind the throne, to the hidden passages where servants hurried past each other on their numerous errands, to the barracks of the king’s soldiers, to the lesser quarters of the peasants and slaves. Nevertheless far this place prolonged—and in the intervening time she had the impression that it went far past anything she might see, to many, many layers of creation she couldn’t even guess at—there might be no place beyond the reach of her voice. Her horrible, thundering voice.

There was no method to inform whether or not the sand-people understood her or just interpreted her voice as the roars of an invader who had, for the second, stopped advancing. Definitely, a number of the extra cowardly figures on the end of the corridor recoiled in their own, particular person method; some ducked out by way of a passage behind the throne, one or two fell to their knees, and a younger lady sporting a Renaissance-Faire conical hat with an extended strip of some diaphanous materials dangling from its tip drew closer to the determine on the throne, looking for power and maybe safety from his presence, as if there were actually something he might have completed to defend him from any wrath Lauren may need been in any danger of venting. However for now, they waited.

“Yeah, that’s me,” she stated. “A big scary monster.” A deep breath, and she or he continued, “I kind of shut down everything I ever had, you know? My marriage wasn’t such hot shit, but I contributed. My kids are wastes of oxygen who don’t call me anymore, but I made them that way. I got a bad back and a shitty liver and I knocked down every connection I ever had the way those guys in the Godzilla suits knocked down buildings. It helped that pretty much everybody I ever dealt with was a prick or a bitch of one kind or another, but I don’t fool myself: I contributed. I’m just not stupid enough to think I can do something about it, at this stage. So, I don’t know. Maybe I’ll be your monster. I dunno. Maybe I’ll be some good at that.”

This brought on some furtive murmuring among the courtiers of sand.

Lauren licked her lips. She had never carried a flask as a result of it had been years since she’d allowed herself to be any truthful distance from her subsequent drink, but proper now, with sand in her hair and in her throat and the air round her so stale and so heat compared to the relative chill of the seashore, she would have appreciated a snort, something to bolster her until she decided what to do next.

Then something happened on the king’s aspect of the corridor. Two of the armored guards left the stage, carrying a struggling young lady between them. She was not the princess in the conical hat, but some kitchen maid or something like that, based mostly on the apron she wore. Her measurement again made it unattainable to make out any facial features, but her wild thrashing testified to outright panic, and her tiny head stored forming a dimple the place her mouth would have been, in exactly the shape screams would have made. With little effort at all they dragged her to the center of the corridor, the midway point between the throne and Lauren herself, and there they pressured her to her knees, earlier than one drew a sword and slit her open from neck to navel. Sand-bowels spilled out upon the sand-tile, and the two soldiers bowed earlier than backing off and returning to the royals on their elevated stage.

“What the hell was that?”

She crawled towards the pathetic little corpse and probed it together with her fingertip. It naturally collapsed into its element grains at first touch, neither as wet nor as steaming with the processes of life that it had appeared to be till that second. It had been one hell of a pantomime, one astonishing puppet-show a few younger lady being provided up as sacrifice by her craven king, however that was all it had been. It was simply a part of the identical trick, magic or no matter else you needed to name it, that moved them all, once sculpted; not life, however one thing that imitated life.

Lauren unfold the sand the little determine had been in a circle, patting it down onerous till it turned part of the identical simulated stone flooring it lay on, after which she confronted the huddled figures by the throne, and she or he found herself hating them as a lot as she’d hated anything on this poor, dying Earth.

“Yeah, well, I don’t accept your goddamned offering, what do you think of that?”

The only response to that was a sudden, painful jab in her calf.

“Ow, what the f—”

One other jab, not at the similar spot but right subsequent to it, doubled her agony. She recoiled and reached for the source of the ache and felt a recent strike, this time on her palm, which instantly felt on hearth. She glanced down and noticed blood pulsing from a slice in her palm, earlier than the supply of her ache struck but again, this time offering her with a transparent take a look at the weaponry used towards her.

Two sand-warriors held a shard of broken glass.

It needed to have been some piece of damaged bottle, perhaps some historic coke bottle, perhaps some newer vessel for booze, shattered and deserted on either the seashore or that forlorn strip of grass between the seashore and the civilized streets beyond; the type of factor that lay in look forward to some hapless beach-comber, walking the sand in naked ft. Each seashore that has ever recognized the tread of a human foot has additionally harbored such hidden hazards, and years after the general migration to plastic bottles still did, some little question buried far beneath the sand, some simply ready for the correct foot to land within the incorrect means.

To those sand-people, watching as the impervious leviathan cried out in agony at its touch, it had to be the equivalent of a type of fantasy swords from the films Lauren had typically been too apathetic to turn off, the only factor able to saving their little kingdom at this hour of its biggest want.

Whilst she watched, the 2 warriors bearing the shard too heavy or too strong for only one of them gathered their braveness and charged her leg again, the bloody edge of their weapon foremost.

She didn’t rigorously formulate a protection. She just lashed out. She brought her fist down, screeching because the glass reduce deep into the aspect of her hand, but mashing the 2 bearers flat. The 2 of them exploded in a cloud of sand. One was decreased right into a mound, only recognizable as the stays of a sand determine due to the one twitching leg that someway remained intact; the opposite was solely crushed from the waist down and was left staring at the particles his lower half had turn out to be, his mouth contorting in a silent scream. Her personal scream matched his because she’d managed this victory only at additional value to her hand, and with absolute fury that she pulled the shard from her fist and threw it to at least one aspect, imbedding it in a sandy tapestry too excessive up the wall for the little individuals to succeed in.

“Even here,” she stated.

She was not considering clearly enough to put her grievance into complete sentences, but if pressed she may need stated that in a world that had accomplished all it might to wound her, even this one confirmed its willingness to attract blood.

She needed to charge the throne and all the little individuals gathered round it, and to pound them into the nothingness that they had come from, but her hand and her leg throbbed and the very last thing she needed was to get the injuries dirtier, extra crammed with the stuff of those creatures of silicate. As an alternative she’d simply depart. But none of this crawling across the dust to get by means of a slender tunnel, not anymore; not when all the things in sight crumbled at her slightest contact. Not when these little bastards weren’t even actual.

She’d just tear the walls down, like Samson.

She rose to virtually her full peak, having to stoop only just a little bit beneath that arched ceiling, and it really was satisfying the best way the little things cowered and cringed at the sight, on the method she scraped a ceiling so excessive above their heads that they should have seen it as a tribute to their little kingdom’s majesty, and since it seemed the thing to do, she roared, truly roared, putting her full throat into it, taking pleasure in how horrible she was, how fantastic it was to be in a world she might break as an alternative of the one that had broken her. She drew back her fist and drove her entire arm by way of that arch of sand, hitting open air, earlier than pulling armfuls of the sculpted roof back down into the chamber. To little things their measurement, it should have been like seeing the top of their world, this destruction of the hold the place their king had dominated above all. To Lauren, it was like breaking out of a cage, admitting the air and the sunshine, opening up this area a lot like a grave to a sky that, even if grey with clouds, was nonetheless brilliant sufficient to suggest the presence of a solar. The sand started to pile around her ankles, the walls far too crumbly to climb, but as she started pulling them down, obliterating the tapestries, returning the false fort to its origins of sand; the destruction she made gave her recent earth to face on, and this she climbed, pulling herself out, not within the false terror of the false creatures of the false courtroom under.

She pulled herself back in open air, the place legions of archers arrayed on the towers and ramparts loosed their shafts. Little needles of sand struck her shoulders and chest, like all the rest of their weapons apart from that shard of glass disintegrating on impression, barely making an impression. Nonetheless, she roared at them, a kraken taking pleasure of their puny defiance, toppling one of many intact towers with one mighty blow. Its collapse brought down one of many walkways, dropping dozens of the bastards into the spoil under. She pressed her knee towards the growing sandpile supporting her escape and pulled herself upward, until she knelt atop the principally shattered citadel, bloody and irritated and taking a breather whereas the remaining defenders—and really, there seemed no finish to them—fired extra volleys of ineffective arrows, no extra dangerous to someone of her scale and solidity than grit carried by errant breeze.

Still, she couldn’t afford to remain here and continue battling them, even when that they had no extra shards of their armory; the very last thing she needed was for anybody from city to occur by and see her destroying this grand fort, in what they must interpret as a drunken rampage. Her popularity was not nice, however that was one thing she’d by no means reside down. She may even be prosecuted.

And so, she slid down a collapsing wall again to the courtyard that separated the outer wall from the fort correct, driving an avalanche of sand as it engulfed little panicking sand-people trying and failing to flee this horrible cataclysm. When she reached the underside, rising on wobbly legs and blinking from the sand that was now in her hair, in her garments, and caked on her eyelashes, a couple of of the sand-people nonetheless remained between her and the wall, trapped by the very structure that she might imagine them once trusting to offer safety; and some of them had drawn swords and stood before a mob of trembling commoners and the even smaller figures of youngsters, brandishing the weapons they should have now certainly recognized would not sluggish her down even by the period of a heartbeat.

Lauren thought-about obliterating them and those they have been giving their all to guard, but the prospect made her drained and weepy.

“I’m sorry. It’s just, you know. Par for the course. I wreck everything.”

She sniffed, turned her back, brushed the debris from hair that by now should have resembled a rat’s nest, slapped the clouds of sand from her upper clothes, and headed back toward the hole in the fortress wall.

She had no plans except to get residence one way or the other, to strip off these clothes, to bathe until she felt clean again, and to go on together with her life.

She stopped when she noticed what lay in watch for her.

She had come from a seashore where the sand appeared the best way sands do, on seashores traversed by human beings: rippled by winds and by the impression of human steps. Beyond that there had been the ocean in a single course, that grass barrier and her town in another. There had been buildings, the sounds of visitors, an indication to the effect that no lifeguard was on obligation low season and that each one bathers entered the water at their own danger. Right here and there, litter. She particularly remembered an deserted, filthy pool noodle tipped with flecks of salt, a damaged seashore lounge, and on the high-tide mark past which the sand was a mild slope worn clean by current waves, the standard demarcation line of deposited seaweed.

None of this was what she noticed now.

No, instead of the world she had seen together with her male namesake Loren was a sandy kingdom stretching from right here to the horizon. She noticed a tiny sand village, of sand thatched huts and a bit sand windmill, by a stream fed by distant, snow-capped sand-mountains. She saw another sand-fortress, the identical scale as this one, occupying the nearest of a collection of sandy hills just before a sand-forest. She saw a sky not slate-gray however dirt-brown, hiding a sun she was grateful not to see, because it now seemed possible that it will be the identical shade, and this may have been the blow to shatter what composure still remained, now that she was starting to know the sort of place where she now discovered herself, the sort of destiny to which she’d condemned herself.

It was from this vantage level that she heard the distant rumble.

It was the first sound, apart from the little puffs of dissolving sand, that she’d heard anyone make on this place. It was rhythmic in its method, too chaotic to resolve into anything as organized as a single identifiable beat.

Then a ragged black line emerged over that nearest hilltop.

Someone, both allied kingdoms or distant outposts of this one, had dispatched cavalry to tackle the rampaging monster. They swallowed up the landscape with the velocity of their cost, chittering and squealing as they came, and there were extra of them than she might convey herself to consider.

There weren’t hundreds.

That may have been loopy, not that something about this wasn’t loopy.

The tons of that have been coming can be sufficient, given what they rode.

It took them less time to close the space than she ever would have expected, provided that that they had to date to journey; or perhaps it just seemed far, given the differences in scale between the world she knew and this one the place Lauren discovered herself. They brandished pikes and swords and axes of harmless sand, that would not probably harm her, however they introduced with them one thing much more harmful. Simply as the little individuals on this citadel had appropriated a shard of glass for his or her strongest weapon, so had these distant allies brought along one thing else that would fairly be encountered on the seashore or on the strip of grass separating it from the city beyond; or even, have been they motivated to travel farther in the hunt for assets, in that city itself.

They rode rats, and the sand shaped clouds in their wake.

The primary wave leaped at her, scratching and clawing at her legs, racing up her physique to get at the extra weak locations larger up. Lauren screamed and kicked, sending a number of the little bastards flying, crushing others beneath her heel, but their legs have been many and their claws have been sharp they usually have been too many to outfight. She seized one that had reached her thigh—crushing its rider even she as grasped the squirmy thing’s neck—and flung it as far as she might, however there were extra leaping at her, ever more, and if she stayed here it might be no time in any respect before they flayed her to the bone. The shattered sand fortress blocked the best way behind her, but there was nothing but open area in entrance of her, and she or he leaped over the majority of the army, hitting the sand onerous and operating as quick as her ravaged legs might carry her. Whilst she ran, the rats who had already grabbed maintain nonetheless sought to deliver her down, and she or he shrieked like a lady in flames as she gave a few of her attention to punching them, ripping them free, kicking them where they fell, stumbling, scrambling again to her ft and operating nonetheless more, the sound of thundering pursuit never far behind.

She ran a straight line for so long as she might stand it. She did not go out of her approach to trample any sand-people she encountered alongside the best way, but neither did she make any particular effort to keep away from their villages, their remoted farmhouses, or the occasional wandering particular person who she got here throughout whereas placing whatever distance she might between herself and the pursuing cavalry of sand and rats. She tore what would have been a bloody swath by means of the realm, had it solely been a realm of flesh and bone; as an alternative, the one blood upon the sand was hers, from a dozen locations the place glass or tooth had ripped holes in her. It was wholesale destruction, if nothing else, and it left a path of spoil that, if these individuals had tales, or songs, or histories that they handed from one era to the subsequent, can be remembered by their descendants as one among their most epic legends, the time the riders drove off the enormous factor who had come to lay waste to all the things that existed.

Lauren was not a long-distance runner—was, certainly, soon winded from too many years of drink and indolence and smoking—and it was not long earlier than her flight turned a gasping lurch. Even then, there have been still pursuers behind her, their numbers strengthened by riders from different villages and castles encountered on the best way. They didn’t press the assault, seeing no cause in throwing good lives after dangerous, however they did stay close, the rats chittering and the riders brandishing recent shards of broken glass, to keep her going. Aware that if she fell to her knees, her pursuers would seize the opportunity to finish her off, she stored going, and going, toward those mountains.

She stumbled into what she perceived as a shallow ditch and which by the size of these sand-people was in all probability a good valley, discovering herself thigh-deep deep in flowing water. This was deep sufficient for her passage to overturn a crowded three-story riverboat traveling downstream that was unlucky sufficient to be inside range of the tsunami brought on by her passage. She had no concept how anything made by the individuals of this civilization managed to outlive water in any respect, and was at this point too intent on her own issues to mirror that this was the very nature of know-how, the creation of things that would survive environments the individuals couldn’t. She did see a few dozen little sand-people lined up alongside the ship’s railing recoiling as she thrashed nearer, and the best way the water she’d churned up inundated the deck, actually washing them away the place they stood. The ship rocked within the turbulence, then capsized. Lots of tumbled into the water, some of them popping to the floor just long enough for their mouths to contort into silent screams, before they vanished in little puffs of cloudy water. Pressured into retreat as she’d been, she couldn’t deny taking a sure savage pleasure in still with the ability to trigger mass demise and destruction on their scale, a satisfaction she continued to really feel as she rose out of the water to find a busy little riverfront city with markets and inns and even one structure she would have guess cash was a brothel, all of which she ripped gouges from earlier than pressing on, towards these mountains. She had no selection. The sand-people couldn’t swim, but their cavalry might, and there they have been, crossing the water in a glistening brown carpet, unbothered by the present.

Nonetheless she ran, or more precisely stumbled, weeping and wondering why she even bothered. The mountains grew nearer. She was perhaps what in her world would have been the equivalent of an extended city block away when she made up her thoughts that they weren’t more sand-sculptures, but clusters of boulder, rising a few hundred ft above the sand. For Lauren, they have been steep hills. For the sand-people, they should have been what she’d first referred to as them, mountains. However they have been stone. They have been strong. They might help her. She would not drive herself to exhaustion, preventing earth that shifted beneath her each step, that despatched her sliding one foot back for every two she advanced. She would have the ability to climb, put distance between herself and that army, perhaps even find a place the place they might not go, where she might cease and take into consideration long-term survival.

And once she acquired to the bottom of the rocks, that is what she did, gasping and collapsing and weeping and pulling herself upward and discovering the power to continue whilst her wounded legs left stains to mark her passage. About twenty paces up, she stumbled, landed on her knee, felt a recent eruption of agony, and howled. It was a shriek she would have claimed louder than anything that had ever come out of her mouth, but this is able to have been a lie; before her marriage broke up, she and her piece of crap husband had screamed at one another in exactly that tone of voice, with exactly the identical degree of rage and despair. But this was the loudest scream she’d ever uttered with none phrases, the closest she’d ever come to an animalistic roar. That roar stated, come any nearer and I’ll kill you!

When she lastly calmed sufficient, she appeared right down to the bottom of the mountain and noticed the army that had pushed her here, cheering.

She could not hear their cheers. Their little mouths still made no sound her ears might hear. But the body language was unmistakable. There they have been, of their tons of, being joined by others from allied castles, who had sought the glory of the struggle. They waved their little sand swords and their little sand axes and their little sand pikes, they usually cried their defiance of the unstoppable monster that they had pressured to flee. A number of have been even mooning her. They didn’t comply with her up into the heights, although there was no cause to suppose they couldn’t. These rats would have carried them. But she was away from their lands now, a spent menace not value worrying about. They might not hassle themselves with bloodying her any additional, not when there were celebrations to be had.

She thought-about descending into their midst and taking as many together with her as she might.

However she was self-destructive, not suicidal.

And so she did the only factor she might.

She went back to climbing.

• • • •

That is what she found. This is how she lived.

Close to the peak she found a bit of alcove the place one fallen stone had come to relaxation beside another. It was a good cave, out of the sun and—since it turned out that the temperatures around here might be very cold at night time—out of the elements as nicely. It was simply large enough to offer shelter, and though she tried quite a lot of different locations, on the opposite aspect of the rocks—though she ventured far enough into the desert on the opposite aspect to verify that there have been no creatures of sand there—it ended up being probably the most congenial place for her to reside, if this was where she had to stay. It was, and so she did. She discovered another shallow stream not distant, the place there have been fish; along its banks a couple of scraggly bushes with berries that fermented simpler than she dared to consider, a couple of issues like sticks and stones she might use to make tools.

Although at the least a part of day-after-day needed to be spent holding herself watered and fed. Until she needed to, she never ventured to the inhabited aspect of her little mountain. She typically spent hours on what she got here to name the protected aspect of the mountain. However when the solar grew low in the dun sky, she returned to her little cave, nibbled on fish and berries and moss and the occasional wandering rat, comforted herself with what intoxication she might manage from the juice of these berries, and contemplated a sky full of unfamiliar constellations.

For a while she used the edge of a flat stone to mark a nearby wall with hash-marks to commemorate the passage of time, however she stored that up for just a few months earlier than abandoning the challenge as pointless. By then it was clear that her clothes can be rotting off her. She deserted it willingly. Her wounds turned scars. Her hair grew lengthy and matted. She gained callouses on the soles of her ft and on the palms of her arms. She stopped walking upright and surrendered to the gait that scrambling up and down these rocks rewarded, using all fours. Ultimately it turned simpler to apply the identical on her every day journeys right down to the water. She fell out of the behavior of speaking, but typically, when the berries produced a batch finer than average, sang. At such occasions, although she had no means of figuring out this, the wind carried the sound down from her mountain house, and across the land repairing itself from her rampage, and in this means informed those that lived there that the behemoth of legend still lived, up there in the cursed rocks where nobody ever went. And on this method, she lived, and in this means she would ultimately die, and though she wailed typically, it have to be stated that the life suited her, and that at occasions she was, if not exactly comfortable, then a minimum of content.

That is what she found. This is how she lived, and it must be no shock that that is how she died.

And if this appears to you that her existence had come to nothing, that is something else you need to know.

Sometimes, down in the realm the place the women and men of sand constructed their houses and fought their wars and pursued the politics of their type, there occasionally rose those not glad with the best way issues have been, those that thought that the fates had higher destinies in thoughts for them.

Women and men, they might turn their eyes towards the mountains the sensible warned towards, the place that marked the top of the civilized world. They might keep in mind the tales of the creature who had appeared out of nowhere and wreaked nice destruction earlier than being pushed back to that place, the place it was assumed it belonged, the place that still emanated strange sounds solely the leviathan might have made. It might occur to those stressed ones that the monster was a sight value seeing, a quest value pursuing; a thing value slaying, for the menace it had as soon as been, and the one it’d turn out to be once more. And so, defying the advice of their families, of their discovered, of all those that made lists of the silly methods the restless before them had gotten themselves killed, they might arm themselves with the finest weaponry they might scavenge, clad themselves in probably the most impenetrable armor they might discover, and they might purpose themselves at those mountains, intent on the cave where the monster was stated to relaxation.

Some would locate their method up, come to their senses, and return house, saying that they’d searched and searched but could not find any trace of the monster, anyplace.

Others would get so far as their first sight of her, and would either go mad at the very scale of the beast or, again, come to their senses, and head again down. A couple of would secrete themselves close to the place the place she laid her head and wait until they saw her sleeping, at which level various these would obtain the epiphany that as strange as she was, she was at coronary heart just a dwelling factor like another. It might happen to them that to take away the last of her from the world can be a sin, and then they too would retreat, returning to their world with comparable assurances that that they had achieved all the things they might but that the beast remained elusive, and may actually not even exist.

And typically, there were the bravest of the brave, these for whom the battle was every thing, the ones who bided their time at her cave’s mouth, waited for their moment, and then drew their swords or—if they have been outfitted—their shards of glass, intent on undertaking what whole legions earlier than them had not. There were, through the years, many of those, all well-meaning. They have been heroes they usually have been fools, two words that always imply the same thing.

Of them, we must report that the little alcove where the monster slept started its life as her residence a hard stone surface, no extra congenial a bed than concrete would have been, and that through the years it acquired a brand new and far more snug layer, deep enough to render that place as restful a home as the beast might ever want.

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