Bellightra passed through the shadows between the worlds faster than she’d ever moved before. It was easier when you imagined you were falling. The void beyond creation exerted a pull on all things and if you didn’t mind the chance of falling into an endless abyss, you could use that to move into the deeper realms faster than any mortal could travel on their own.
“Are we going to make it on time?” Lelandra asked.
They were falling so fast that Bel could see her wife’s face clearly. Neither of them could keep a cloak of invisibility held to themselves with the buffeting of a thousand world veils shredding before them.
“I have no idea!” Silian said, his voice a shared presence in their ears. “Isn’t it exciting?”
“Exciting. Yes. I hate excitement,” Lelandra said.
Below them pale stars, visible to their eyes alone, faded out as the Shadowfolk trio plunged in freefall through the skies, each cloud the last barrier of another world they were leaving behind.
“That’s a good thing,” Silian said. “I was afraid all of my children would turn out like me.”
“We thought you were basically a god,” Bellightra said.
“Nope. Not a god. Not a saint. Not even a hero really,” Silian said. “All I was, all I am I guess, is someone who was lucky enough to be caught exactly where he didn’t want to be, and faced with a choice he couldn’t accept.”
“That sounds like the opposite of lucky,” Lelandra said, bracing for their next cloud passage.
“At the time I agreed with you. Did you know I invented a thousand and one new blasphemous curses thanks to the spot the gods put me in? A thousand and one! I mean after the first few hundred it was basically a matter of pride to see how many I could come up with, but still you don’t spend that kind of time on something unless you’re really motivated.”
“Well, they were going to kill us all, weren’t they?” Bellightra asked. “Extinction seems like a great motivator.”
“Hence this suicidal idea,” Lelandra said. “Even like this I don’t know that we’re going to make it in time.”
“We’re traveling as fast as I’ve ever managed, and that’s saying something,” Silian said. “You messengers were well chosen.”
“We can go faster,” Bellightra said.
“What? How?” Silian asked.
It was odd to hear a mystically omnipresent voice sound confused, but then it had been an odd day for Bellightra and Lelandra.
Everyone had heard of the incursion into one of their home realms. It didn’t take messengers to spread that news – gossip was always traveled faster than the official news carriers could compete with.
Bellightra and Lelandra were supposed to be enjoying a day off, one of the too-infrequent ones where their schedules aligned and allowed them a full day together. They were just laying out the ingredients for a day’s cooking when the news of the incursion reached them. Lelandra wanted to investigate but Bellightra had talked her out of it. They didn’t have that many occassions when they could prepare and enjoy home cooked food by themselves and they each loved to surprise the other with the new dishes they’d discovered in their travels.
So they stayed inside. When the official notice arrived that the colony was being put on alert for more trespassers, Bellightra had shut down the notion of returning to the duty station on the grounds that they hadn’t been specifically called for, and that there’d be no offer of compensation time for the extra hours worked if they volunteered their day off away.
“We’d know about what was going on if we were at work though,” Lelandra had said, chewing on the end piece of a root vegetable to ascertain its bitterness.
“We don’t need to care about what’s going on,” Bellightra said. “Not until it finds us.”
Trouble has a talent for finding people no matter how much they choose not to search for it though, and in this case the Trouble that found them came in the form of Bellightra’s Uncle Jafferal.
Jafferal was an unpartnered man who’d survived enough decades of active recon unit service to retire to a calm and peaceful life. In the decades since then he’d become an extra caregiver for all of his siblings and neighbors, providing an extra hand in raising their children largely because after years in the field he was as incapable of resting as the children he wrangled were.
Jafferal’s position was a happy one for him and a blessing for those who relied on him. It also made him the center of a web of information thicker than any of the Elder’s intelligence officers. Or in other words he was a typical part of the community gossip network.
“Ladies, would you like to speak to our progenitor, Silian? If so just say ‘yes’ and he’ll explain the rest of what’s going on, but be warned, once he’s a part of your life you can’t get rid of him. He’ll always be there,” Jafferal said without preamble or warning when they opened the door to greet him.
“Are you serious?” Lelandra asked.
“Completely,” Jafferal said.
“Definitely then!” Bellightra said.
From there their day went decidedly off schedule. Dishes were left unfinished. Cooking fires were extinguished. Inventive explicatives were deployed.
And a plan was formed.
Or to be accurate, it was less formed than pitched hastily at a wall and the parts that stuck were cobbled together into something that had the possibility of not killing every living soul involved in it.
Under the constraints they’d been given, Bellightra considered that a towering achievement. True, they’d had the aid and counsel of a person who’d outsmarted literal gods, but the details of the plan, such as they were, emerged largely from the collective (and hurried) discussion of those who were won over to the new cause of “not allowing the Shadowfolk to perish en masse because an Elder did something stupid”.
Bellightra and Lelandra had a simple portion of the plan to execute.
Deliver a message. It was what they did, almost to the point of being who they were. There were many days that Bellightra felt more like a courier than she did a wife, a chef, or any other part of herself. Those days never felt like they had a point. Not until she found herself trying to outrace fate and gambling with the lives of her entire species.
“Answer me this,” Bellightra said. “Is there still a chance to save the Gallagrin princess?”
“Yes,” Silian said. “I’m speaking with her now. She’s playing for time, but Tonel’s not stupid, he’s going to give her more than another minute or so.”
“This would be so much simpler if you could just speak to him,” Lelandra said, addressing their invisible progenitor.
“Tried that,” Silian said. “Been trying that for years in fact. Some people are surprisingly resistant to hearing things they don’t want to hear.”
“What could you have had to say that Tonel was that opposed to?” Bellightra asked, angling them onto a new course.
“That he needs to give up his position gracefully,” Silian said. “That he was the wrong person for the job, and that it’s beyond him. That there are others who could lead with clearer vision and less need for personal aggrandizement. Basically everything he’s spent his whole life trying to deny while at the same time working to make the unassailable truth.”
“That’s what I figured,” Bellightra said. “And maybe that makes this worth it.”
“What, exactly, are you doing?” Silian asked.
“Gambling,” Bellightra said.
“And the stakes would be?” Silian asked.
“Our minds, our bodies, our fundamental existence,” Bellightra said. “Your kind of stuff right?”
“Yes,” Silian said and then added with a small sigh, “of all my legacies, this had to be the one to endure didn’t it?”
“I’m afraid so,” Lelandra said.
“Watch for pockets of shadow worlds at the outer fringe,” Bellightra said and offered her hand to Lelandra.
“Watch for open skies,” Lelandra said and took her wife’s hand in her own.
There was a wrenching shake as Bellightra jumped them in between the Shadow Worlds.
No longer falling through the skies of the partial planes, but rather the paper thin emptiness that separated them, the two encountered no resistance to the abyss’s pull and their already tremendous speed increased so much that the pale stars flared around them, passing upwards and out of sight in the space of a single heartbeat.
Bellightra maneuvered them along a twisting, spiraling path that was somehow steeper and shorter than any straight line could have been. With each moment the gaps they fell through grew larger but so too did the micro-fragments that collected within the spaces between the worlds.
“Mountain!” Silian warned, and Bellightra spun them in a mad arc away from the unlit and nearly invisible mass of rock they’d been headed towards.
“We’re coming up on First Prototypes,” Lelandra warned.
“The First…oh thousand hells no!” Silian said.
Ahead of them, more dots were rapidly growing to reveal their true scale. They weren’t mountains. They were continents, discarded and shattered continents, some of the earliest works of the gods. They held little definition since they were only basic concept sketches of the worlds to be but even as basic sketches they had mass and structure.
“Can you make it through there?” Silian asked, referring to the pitch black spider web of cracks that hinted at the Abyss that lay on the far side of the First Prototypes.
“Could you?” Bellightra asked.
“Sure,” Silian said. “On a really good day.”
“Then so can we,” Bellightra said.
“Let’s just hope that today’s a really good day,” Lelandra said.
Bellightra drew Lelandra in close.
“Wish we could have used a portal for this,” she said.
“We can do this,” Lelandra said.
“Yeah, with you I can do anything.”
The cracks in the shattered lands of the void swallowed ‘First Prototypes’ ranged from fissures that were wider than cities to slits less than a finger’s width across.
Bellightra had only the absence of reflected light to measure them by.
And she was moving faster than she’d ever traveled before.
She and Lelandra entered a cleft in the proto-continent that was as wide as they were tall stacked on top of one another. In less than an instant they were passing through a section that was only a few inches wider than the breadth of their bodies as they clung together.
Rocks blurred past them like a river of teeth that would slice them to ribbons with the barest touch.
The walls pulsed inwards and Bellightra crushed Lelandra so close that neither woman could breath. The rocks whispered across the back of Bellightra’s hand and blood fountained from the perfect cut that appeared.
And then they were sailing beyond the great primordial landmass.
“There!” Lelandra cried, adjusting their course to intersect with one of the last Shadow Worlds that drifted on the edge of the Abyss.
Bellightra had been too busy watching the walls and navigating through them to see beyond, but she didn’t have to. Lelandra found the final tether of sanctuary they could cling to.
As they punched through the veil of the last realm between them and the void, Bellightra and Lelandra jumped to reorient to the world’s axis, spin and velocity.
They were among the best of the Shadowfolks messengers. They had the experience to pull the jump off, and they did.
But it wasn’t enough.
Together they landed in the bottom of a quarry where a fierce battle was exploding out of control. They’d arrive at their destination at the last possible second. But they were traveling too fast.
Helplessly they sailed across the quarry like two fiery comets, blazing out into the existence devouring emptiness of the void.
Bellightra held tight to Lelandra desperate not to lose the woman who fulfilled so much of her life.
And then an angel wreathed in all the lights of creation caught them.