Chapter Four of Many
I pointed in shock, turning to look at Nos. “L-look, can you see this?” I trembled in place, hardly able to contain myself.
Nos twirled a finger around in his nose for a moment. “Uh-huh. Yeah, it’s great,” he said, wiping his hand on his suit coat.
I frowned at him. “That’s gross.”
He shrugged. “’Kay. Anyway, you wanna see those whales or not?”
Trying to forget that I just been holding Nos’s hand, I nodded, and followed him across the barren white surface of the moon. The dust lay everywhere, deep enough in some places to hide Nos’s shiny black shoes from sight.
He led me to the rim of a giant canyon and pointed down inside it.
I looked, and saw glowing blue houses built in a forest of glinting purple trees, the entire floor of the canyon alive with twinkling amethyst and sapphire. Golden dust rose from a handful of chimneys like smoke, shining over the softer, darker lights of houses and trees.
“This is Crystal Valley,” Nos said, yawning loudly.
I just stared open mouthed. In all my imaginings (and I imagined a lot) I had never imagined anything like this before.
Nos led me on a winding trail down into the canyon, some spots shaded from the light and so dark that all I could see was his balloon, bouncing along in the gloom ahead. The path weaved into small caves, glowing violet with crystals and diamonds, and into a small forest of trees, glinting stones hanging from the deep black branches of the trees. The stones were so small and fine, they resembled wisps of silk draped through the crooked ebony limbs like shining cobwebs in dark window frames. The trail eventually led out into what looked like the bottom of the canyon, at the edge of the strange town of glowing diamonds.
Nos stopped suddenly.
I looked over at him. “What?”
He blinked, staring into the village uneasily. “I mean, I would rather not go through the process of introducing you to everyone and everything in the village if I don’t have to. You’re only going to be here for a few minutes, you know. We should just have a look at the whales and beat it. You don’t want to spend hours talking to Ceidwuds.”
“What’s a Ceidwud?” I asked immediately.
As if the universe wanted to answer my question, a small voice called out from the center of the village ahead of us. “Nos! Oi, Nos! What you just standing there for, mate? We got work to do!”
The voice belonged to what I imagined to be a dwarf. It was difficult to say from the distance, as the little person was a good ways off, but he was definitely short, definitely round, and probably a bit fat too, by the look of him from where we stood.
Nos apparently wished to deny the universe answering my question, as he promptly seized my arm and dashed away. In fact, I think Nos had very little respect for the universe as a whole, as the very next thing he did was throw us off the edge of a cliff.
I let out a yelp and reached out to save myself, my fingers closing on nothing but air. A second later, we dropped like stones into the empty blackness of the crevice below. The wind howled in my ears and my heart leaped into my throat as we plummeted into the gloom. A moment later, we stopped falling and leveled out, drifting lightly in the light of a group of whitish stones hovering in the air beside us. Nos directed us to a ledge carved into the black stone wall of the canyon and landed gently, my bare feet pressing into the cold rock.
“What on earth did you do that for?” I yelled, jerking away from him.
“First of all, it’s moon, not earth,” Nos said cheerfully, “and secondly, I don’t like people. I try to avoid them as sort of a general rule. Meeting people and engaging in small talk is…” he shuddered, wrapping his arms around himself.
“But that person knew who you were,” I said crossly.
“Yeah, definitely avoid those,” Nos said quickly. “But that’s different. Usually avoiding them is some form of emergency.”
He then turned and walked away, leaving me standing in confusion.
I hurried after him, not wanting to be left behind in the canyon’s shadow.
The ledge was yet another trail all on its own, dipping and weaving along banks and slopes until it finally let out along the edge of another crystalline forest. The trees glimmered softly in the half-light, like a thousand night lanterns left to burn dimly against a setting sun. We marched straight in, Nos whistling cheerily ahead of me.
As we delved deeper and deeper into the forest, I began to wonder where exactly we were going. Now, Nos could argue anything he wanted about lightning and beets, but he would never convince me that whales lived in the woods. That simply wouldn’t make sense. Not a lot did make sense when one was traipsing through a glowing diamond forest on the moon, but whales in the underbrush made even less.
My instincts turned out to be correct, as the forest began to grown thinner, the trees growing further and further apart as the landscape opened up slowly, eventually giving way to another barren rock shelf, hard and dustless under my bare feet. I could see light ahead of us, a twinkling azure against the curtain of black that rose up like a great wall before us. As we drew closer, the light grew brighter, until I could see that it was in fact an entire field of crackling blue sparks, leaping and dancing in the air, frolicking leaf to leaf among a numerous collection of plants I recognized straight away.
My stomach churned immediately, but these were different. These root vegetables hovered in the air, for one. They were seemingly planted in the sky, their ugly purple bulbs dangling freely beneath their leafage. Bright, sapphire lightning snapped between them, making small popping noises that echoed all the way out to where we stood. The sky seemed alive with thousands of lightning beets, as far as I could see.
“These just grow here?” I asked, fascinated and disgusted all at once.
“No, they are planted and managed,” Nos answered, strolling over to the edge of the rock shelf and sitting down. He swung his feet back and forth over the edge, his shiny black shoes reflecting the lightning of the beets high above us.
I joined him along the edge, sitting down and letting my bare feet fall over the emptiness beneath us. The canyon dropped away at the edge, falling even deeper into the inky darkness below us. The beets followed it, their flashing leaves and bulbs descending into mere glints below.
“How deep does it go?” I asked him.
“All the way to Nothing,” he answered.
“Nothing?” I frowned. “What does that mean?”
“It means it’s where some of the Ysbryd live,” Nos explained.
“Are they the strange faces of light?”
“Yes, and voices. And sometimes malice,” he added, glancing at me quickly. “You must remember that, if anything.”
I pulled my feet up onto the ledge and sat on them, staring into the darkness nervously. “What are they?”
“Dreams, usually,” Nos said, tugging on the string to his balloon and giving it a bounce. “Or nightmares. It depends. Sometimes they’re both, and don’t even realize it.”
“So they’re…” I screwed up my face, trying to say what I wanted without sounding stupid. “Living dreams?”
Nos shook his head. “Not exactly. Yes and no. When people die, their dreams need somewhere to go. You see, dreams never really die, so they always have to have a home. They usually pick a person to live in, until that person dies, and then they have to find a new home. Most come here, to Gald Wyddion.”
I blinked. “Gald Wydion?”
“The Land of Dreams,” Nos said. “The moon is the Land of Dreams, but its actual name is Gald Wydion.” He sighed. “Anyway, this is where most of the Ysbryd come when they have nowhere else to go.”
“Where do the rest of them go?” I asked nervously, thinking I already knew the answer.
Nos looked down into the darkness, towards the Nothing.
I backed up a bit. “And are they the nightmares?”
“They used to be,” Nos said sadly. “Now, Lady Gloew has real dreams trapped in the Nothing, with no way out. She collects Ysbryd, see, as they search for the way back to Gald Wydion. That’s what the lightning beets are for, see?”
I frowned. “To...to keep her down there?”
Nos nodded. “It works, mostly. Only one of her Collectors has ever managed to get on this side. He’s very strong. The beets don’t stop him.”
I didn’t ask what a Collector was. I was getting scared, and didn’t want Nos to know it, so I simply nodded, and dropped the topic.
Nos pointed at something, and I looked up.
Blue light filled the canyon, melting around the hard stone above and flooding the gloom of the great well that went to nothing. A high-pitched whistle drifted down toward us lightly as a glowing blue whale yawned into view along the edge of the lightning beet field. Wisps of sapphire dust drifted off of its fins in fine clouds, vanishing like smoke in the wind. It had a great box on its back, made of a polished wood and etched in black designs that made me think of starlight and good stories. Yellow carpet with dazzling red tassels blanketed the top of the great beast in a warmth that contrasted the cold blue glow of its body.
It whistled shrilly and turned in the sky, dipping down toward Nos and myself.
Nos lifted his balloon and bobbed it up and down, the little white sphere shedding a soft light over us, like a dim street lamp.
Wind rushed around me, sending my pajamas back into a state of frantic fluttering as the whale drew close to out ledge, floating alongside it. It stared at me with a brilliant eye, glistening ruby against its ocean-blue skin. Its gaze was soft, almost patient, as though it knew something that I didn’t and was simply waiting for me to work it out.
“Well, what are you waiting for?” Nos called from somewhere above me.
I looked up to see him sitting on the whale’s back, cross-legged on the soft carpet in front of the giant wooden box. He twirled the string of his balloon around is finger and stared at me with his crimson eyes, so similar to the whales, yet entirely bereft of patience.
I looked for a way up and spied the whales fin resting on the ledge a little ways off. I hurried down to it and put one foot gingerly on its shimmering, transparent surface. It was solid and leathery, so I stepped up with my other foot and walked up the fin onto the creatures back. Its glow was prickly, like when blood goes rushing back into your feet after you have been crouching for too long. The carpet on its back was soft though, plush and warm strands of wool poking up between my toes.
I reached Nos, who was carefully examining the bottom of his shoe, and sat down.
Everything shifted as the whale moaned, tilting away from the ledge and drifting out toward the field of beets.
“Where are we going?” I asked Nos.
Nos jerked his chin toward the field. “To pick up a load of beets.”
“How do the whales pick up beets, though?” I asked in confusion. I was trying to imagine them using great, long tongues to pick singular beets out of the sky, and then thought that that would prove to be painful if they were to get shocked.
Nos rolled his eyes. “You’re about to see, aren’t you?”
It didn’t take long for the whale to reach the beet field, and it float up beside it, just as it had the ledge. The sound of the crackling beets was thunderous, a constant buzzing roar in my ears, like static on a radio if it had the tone of a thunderstorm.
I thought my chest was going to burst when the whale let out a guttural moan, deep and rumbling. A moment later, a flash of light forced me to close my eyes. When I opened them again, someone was standing out in the air by the beets, a little ways from the whale. He was tall, and cloaked in a dark robe, his face hidden behind a low hood. A long staff shimmered in his hand, the top ablaze with a bright yellow orb. His entire body was the same transparent blue as the whale, glowing softly under the golden light of his staff. He muttered a few strange words under his breath, the golden light growing brighter. Singular beets began to drift out towards the whale, weak and dimming, lightning sparking between them as they flew. Finally, they all thundered down into the wooden box on the back of the whale, a final few sparks popping and hissing as they tumbled in.
This same process was repeated three more times, until the strange hooded man murmured something old, and quiet. The whale moaned loudly again, and the mysterious man stopped, standing still in the sky. The whale turned and began floating down toward the Nothing with its load of beets.
I stared back at the strange man as we descended, watching in fascination as he raised his staff. A moment later, I was just able to make out a handful of beets sparkle to life in the air in front of him. They all floated away in different directions, each bound for the empty place left by its predecessor.
I turned and looked at Nos. “Where are we going now?”
“Thunder Gate,” Nos said simply.
Before I could ask what that was, the whale let out an ear-shattering roar, and a great white hole was ripped into the black sky in front of us with a thick boom. It twisted and whirled in the sky, its glossy white interior a blotch against the darkness around us. I dug my fingers into the lush carpet under me, holding on as we sped towards it.
I couldn’t watch. I squeezed my eyes shut as we drew close to it, a rumbling sound filling my ears, like a thousand people stomping their feet on the floor above you. I waited for the world to explode when we struck the white, but it didn’t. Nothing happened.
Nothing at all. Suddenly, the air grew colder. Everything went quiet.
I opened my eyes.
I drew in a sharp breath, staring at the blue and green wall that was earth, hovering directly in front of us. It wasn’t far away, twinkling in the distance, no; it was right in front of us, as large as life. I felt as though I could have reached out and touched the clouds, their misty, swirling banks just a hair’s breadth from my fingertips.
I looked at Nos. “H-how did we get here?”
“Thunder Gate,” Nos said, as though that explained everything perfectly. He smiled at me. “Are you ready to see where lightning really comes from?”
I nodded, even though I probably wasn’t. If it was half as interesting as Thunder Gate, I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to like it.
“Hold on,” Nos said with a sly grin, grabbing handfuls of the carpet under us.
I followed suite, and not a moment too soon. The whale rolled suddenly to the side, tilting so far that I wondered if my feeble grip would be enough to keep me from falling.
It was. In fact, it was as if I didn’t really need to hold on at all. The whale rolled completely upside down, all the beets floating out of the box and tinkling like electric stars above the clouds below. I hovered on the top of the whale, that was now the bottom, and watched as they vanished into the misty banks beneath us.
The beet whale rolled upright again, and everything was quiet. I held my breath, waiting for something to happen.
Suddenly, the clouds erupted in light. Streaks of lightning slashed the mist in a web of blazing electricity. Thunder rolled across the sky below, filling my ears with the rumble of home, a sound I knew all too well.
Nos folded his arms and looked at me smugly. “Now do you believe me?”
I smiled and nodded.
“What do you think? Are you ready to go home yet?”
I sighed. I didn’t really want to. I wanted to stay, and keep exploring the moon. But if I stayed too long, mama and papa would be worried, and Dyn wouldn’t get to eat.
I nodded. “Yeah. I probably should.”
“Good,” Nos said with a grin. Before I had a moment to think, he leaned forward and shoved me off the back of the whale and into open air.
About the author
I write. I sleep. I eat. I write more. Sometimes I find time to work, too! My old trucks are my babies, my baby is my daughter, and my dogs are my kids. My wife is why I get up in the morning.