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Cause [1.5.2]

“…and a King. I win, Mizar; hand over your rations as promised.”

“What in the hell are we doing?” Mizar said to Fafnir. “Why did we teach a card game to a girl who can read our fucking thoughts?”

“In hindsight, we should’ve banned her from doing that.” Fafnir mused, grinning as Mizar grumpily handed Lola the promised snacks.

Just as Fafnir dealt another set of cards out, a screaming rent the air. Mizar jumped.

“Relax. Just a lost one.” Fafnir said, glancing up over the colourful wastes. “It’s not anywhere near us, and I don’t think it’ll catch up.”

“I’m relaxed.” Mizar replied sullenly. “Keep dealing.”

Lola felt genuinely relaxed – the whole mad idea of leaving everything in her life behind to save the universe had hit her so hard, she felt numb to the very concept. Lianne, the council house, everything that had happened, her college work… it was all so very far away now. She had been gone just a day or two, but already she felt like she’d stepped into an entirely new life.

It was as if she had been dreaming for seventeen years, and only now she’d woken up to the real world. Finally, her psychic power wasn’t something to be ashamed of, and she didn’t need to keep it a secret. She was an instrumental piece in the entire universe’s game of chess.

And so, with a wide, contented smile on her face, she continued to play cards, winning hand after hand as Mizar and Fafnir tried, fruitlessly, to prevent her from accessing their minds.

It was a few hours later, after Mizar had tired of cards and taken a nap, that something imperceptible changed. Lola was lying on the side of the island, arms out, just enjoying the journey; there was the briefest of moments where everything seemed to stop, and reality righted itself immediately afterwards. Lola leapt up when it happened, staring wildly around in shock. Fafnir sighed.

“Hey, if you’re gonna doze on the side of the island, don’t trail your hand in the mire. Alright?”

“What was that?” Lola asked.

“Can’t be bothered explaining it all. Read my mind.” Fafnir replied, yawning. Lola did such, and found a memory of Fafnir reading a guide about the Reaches.

Some Zionid and Voidian wanderers end up unable to find islands. One who spends too much of their time in the mire of colour becomes ‘lost’: split into fragments of space and time, left as an unsavoury being, a twisted monster that cannot survive.

“I see.” Lola said, somewhat shaken. “So that was…”

“The first moments of becoming lost.” Fafnir said, tapping on her wrist phone and bringing up the electronic copy of the Reaches guide. “As the explorer Netzach put it, ‘I have had it almost happen to me. Whilst walking to my next island that would take me further to Void, I tripped and fell deeply into the colours. I had to maintain perfect concentration, focussing on my physical form rather than what I was currently falling in. Seconds later, I righted myself, stood once more in the writhing mass of colours, rather than underneath it. I am sure that had I lost concentration, I would have drowned and become like so many others… lost.’”

“Oh my god.” Lola said, staring out at the vast sea of colour with something akin to wonderment and terror. She recalled a misty Literature lesson on the concept of the sublime, and felt that the Reaches were the prime example. “So if you fall into the more colourful stuff, you just… sink into it?”

“It’s like walking in quicksand, I think.” Fafnir explained. “You can skip your way across it for a little bit, but the more time you spend in it, the more it pulls you down. If you don’t keep total focus whilst under the colours… you get lost. If you retain focus, you can ‘part’ the colours and return to the surface. It’s rare to maintain such concentration, so just don’t go in it at all, ‘k?”

“Sure.” Lola replied, shimmying up the side of the island, closer to the centre. Mizar was sleeping soundly, and Fafnir was dozing with a lazy smile on her face. Feeling safer than she had done in many years, Lola let her eyelids fall and decided to sleep.

She sat up a moment later. “IF WE ALL SLEEP WHO WATCHES FOR LOST ONES?”

“Relax. And keep it down, kid.” Fafnir said, holding up her hand. Lola read her mind, since Fafnir seemed too tired to elaborate further. It was another extract from the guide.

The slight increase in stability prevents one from becoming lost, even in sleep. That is not much of an issue. The more egregious problem is being slain by a lost one, since they are great in number and dogged. I have found, however, that due to their desire to become whole again, and their hunt for islands, that instability can terrify them. It is a curious quirk, but a dysfunctional watch worn on the wrist is more than enough to scare lost ones away whilst you sleep.

Satisfied, Lola laid back and let her eyes close once more. Sleep overcame her, as the island sailed deeper into the Reaches, closer and closer to the Voidian Officials.

Mizar shivered an hour or so later, and jerked awake. His movement disturbed Fafnir, who lazily opened an eye. Once she saw the look on his face, she pulled down the facade of laziness and put an arm on his shoulder.

“I just want to sleep.” Mizar whispered, his throat dry.

“Insomnia’s got worse, huh?” Fafnir said.

“Yeah. I know I worry too much about stuff. Rana’s always said that.” he replied, bringing his knees up to his chest. “But there’s just something so… frightening about this. Raziel… is, uh, gone.”

“Yeah.”

“And we didn’t get time to mourn. Because if any one of us had fallen, he would have continued doing the plan. Because he knows saving the entire universe is more important than properly remembering the dead. Time for funerals after, I guess.” Mizar said with a hollow laugh. “So I’m trying not to bother. I’m trying not to break down and give up. I didn’t want to pull myself out of bed and stride into the Reaches and rescue some human kids and deal with the Officials. But for his sake, what choice do I have?”

“You’re doing good. Rana would be proud.” Fafnir said. “You know for a damn fact, Miz, that if you had laid down and refused to get up and save the entire universe, Rana would have drop-kicked you out the door and refused to let you back in until you returned with Antumbra’s head on a plate.”

Mizar laughed quietly, but more genuinely than before. “Yeah. You’re not wrong.”

There was a lost one a little way in the distance. Mizar made a move towards it, but decided against it and sat back down. “The watch will keep them away.”

“Yeah. Although technically, if you’re awake it is our Voidian duty to stab the heckity outta them.”

“I’m suffering.” Mizar said. “May as well let that lost one do the same.”

And with that, he laid back down.

Cause [1.5.1]
Cause [1.5.3]

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