Hotworked Horizons

<< Revenant Faith and Foreign Pilgrimage

“The term ‘dangerous invitation’ is an abysmally vague descriptor. Take the Wordapenny House as an example of more concretely negative consequences for trespassing on proscribed territory. Since at least as far back as the second eon of the fourth age – possibly even the third age if one accepts certain unsubstantiatable claims – it has haunted the gaudiest meanest streets. After the furtive Mr. Wordapenny and his even more enigmatic sister (or lover, or whatever she might have been) and their house all disappeared together one fateful day, it has periodically reemerged to draw the unwary close to its bosom. Some dregs or tattered fringes of the populace may see a new building spontaneously appear in their neighborhood. Someone will manage to identify it as that accursed house, and then tell the authorities. The authorities cordon it off. It eventually leaves and nothing but bad dreams and relief remain in its wake. However, there are always those few poor souls who wander through its door – curious, desperate, ignorant, brave, or foolhardy. We mourn those who go in and are lost, who do not return in their original forms, who when re-lifed have no recollection of what lies beyond that iron and stone door. It is that mercifully small collection of people who re-emerge without having been interrupted that deserves our attention, however. Creatures whose wills become overwritten and neutered and returned to dust. Things which retain instinct, and mind, but not the conduit which allows them to unite the two. They are the husk-eyed evidence that some places reward visitation with even worse fates than living death. It is such a place about which we have an obligation to educate ourselves.”

-Belinada Jacov, An Accounting of Many Strange Histories – Concerning the Wordapenny House

He’d explained it. They would land on solid ground. The target location had what she would call livable conditions, saving them both “complicated skeinwork” and “setup necessary for building livable field interpretations.” It was going to be relatively tame by his estimation, as far as such visitations went.

Her introduction to an alien facet of the gem still struck her stiff, thoughtless, and dumb.

The first thing Ktsn Wdondf Daephod saw upon her arrival was a solid wall of vegetable matter rising to nearly block out the heavens. The first thing she smelled was a nearly-familiar dirty green plant scent. The first thing she felt was a rock-studded patch of short grass beneath her feet. The first thing she tasted was air hotter than any air should be allowed to become.

For almost ten windless heartbeats, she heard nothing.

Then the breeze picked up, partially alleviating the heat, and it was hard for her to even think over the racket of clacking stems. A creek or stream bubbled and frolicked out of sight, noise carried on the wind.

“Bamboo!” Eihks exclaimed beside her.

A leaning gander at some of the vegetation.

“Or an analogue, at least.”

He’d altered his clothing to a single finely-made lower body vestment, a long white upper body covering with ceramic squares tiling it like scales, and a shorter black jacket overtop of that. The ceramic squares made little clicking noises when he pulled a stalk against his torso and let it rebound.

Bamboos, her built-in dictionary abruptly told her, were grasses with pretensions and a stupendous rate of growth. She found herself interested, but also disturbed at the (yet again) unsolicited supply of word-related information.

She would like to try planting a cutting or shoot of the stuff, though; she’d like that a very great deal.

Above, faint dustings of leaves whispered plant secrets to each other. Sharp shadows married and divorced among the clearing in the grove. The sun…


She turned just a bit, shaking a little to make sure her eyes were clear.

The sun…


She stopped, gawping upward.

“Why does it look like there are two suns?” she demanded.

“Binary system. Not something you often see in conjunction with life-bearing planets. On the other hand, a lot more often than exotic facetary or subfacetary structures – like finding that a whole facet is a single unbroken geometric expanse, or that it’s got perfectly stateless physics. Good news: unless it’s a very odd season right now, the planet’s also probably close to Rhaagm in terms of day-night cycle duration.”

The term binary system ran through Ktsn’s brain, and again it retrieved enough data from her Rhaagmini lexical references to make her both more educated and more confused. And disturbed, again.

“That’s not the only change,” Eihks said. “You may – oh!”

He reached out, and with a single hard torque snapped off the top half of a short plant.

“Huh,” he said a bit differently, turning the woody length over in his hand. “You may have noticed that moving around is a bit easier for you.”

She had.

“It feels like I am stronger, or faster,” she admitted. “I think this is what you are supposed to experience with dream-grass.”

“You and I come from places with similar levels of gravitational pull, more taxing than here. On… argh, I suppose it’s going to be called ‘the Gegaunli planet’ in popular discourse for a while, no matter what we do. On the planet you come from, you weigh pretty much the same as you would in Rhaagm.”

She could have said a lot of things in response, but she chose to keep quiet.

Eihks waved the stick.

“Try jumping.”

She did. Ktsn’s wrapped feet left the ground, and then felt the urge to begin flailing. It was as though even while beginning the hop, someone had pushed every hair, every muscle fiber, and every scrap of skin just a little farther from the earth. With difficulty, she managed to keep herself oriented, but it made her supremely self-conscious.

Well. She’d have to stay observant, then.

“So, we’re here together. You. Me.”

A wave of the now-broken bamboo cane.

“It probably goes without saying, but should I give you an order, it’s for our safety – not because I just enjoy making your life miserable. Prompt listening, please.”

“That sounds reasonable,” she replied, blunt and dry. Not without uneasiness at the way his words evoked Father’s demands for obedience.

His palm pushed against one eye, scrunching up his face.

“Yes, well – not that you or I or anyone should ever truly rely on such things, but at least in my case I can be re-lifed if I meet a more permanent death. Because of existing mental-applicable medical conditions, it’s guaranteed that what would get shot out of the revivification clinic in Rhaagm wouldn’t actually be me. It would look just like me, though, and think somewhat like me. It’d have nociception, olfactory capability, and the ability to rely on instinct. A poor mirror of myself.”

He sighed heavily.

“You have the right to forgo a real-time connection to personality preservation services, however much I hope you consent to sign up for a revivification plan in the near future.”

Ktsn didn’t plan on consenting to such a thing anytime soon. Her mind was her last bastion and speaking in this artificially-enlightened tongue was already at the very limit of the tolerable.

The “enlightened” part she admitted to finding fascinating; the “artificially” part caused her to shudder.

The bamboo rapped against the back of Eihks’s arm.

“Just please, remember, that death is a serious matter. Alright? Alright. We can let that alone for the present.”

Death is a serious matter.

Actually, the man was almost as bad as her father, decided the woman.

Eihks prodded the air with his makeshift baton.

“Now. What we’re going to do, funnily enough, is the sort of thing you’ve been doing for a while.”

The baton flipped around from one hand to the other, fluttering gaily, as he took long steps toward the perimeter of the clearing. Each movement of the baton flowed with slow floaty ease.

“Scholarly study?”



“No, but that’s the right idea.”

His free hand clamped thumb and adjacent digit in a circle by his eye.

“A lot of the culture in which I was raised venerates the principle of living without luxuries. These outings usually mimic that austerity to a degree.”

Ktsn thought back to her experiences of the Parsed City-State, and felt some doubt that such was “without luxuries.” Eihks’s follow-through seemed specifically aimed at defusing that skepticism.

“Not true privation, but making use of lesser means than we’re capable of enjoying.”

She began slowly following him.

“You showed me a place where, as best I can tell, there is no hunger and death has virtually ceased. Either those are luxurious accommodations, or I grossly misunderstand the concept.”

“No. What you’ve got is a different perspective. What we’ve got – and you’re now included in that ‘we’ – is the ability to ensure certain freedoms.”

Maybe it was her melancholy, but she felt the need to leap to her father’s defense.

“One only needs to ENSURE freedoms for those subject to misrule,” she paraphrased instead. Her tongues lapped against each other, but she actually felt good being able to cite Ryodket in an appropriate circumstance.

Why by Taralngegeshet’s buried ire were they discussing philosophy right now?

“Yes! Absolutely. We believe in freedom from want, freedom from fear, freedom of sp-”

He cut off quite suddenly. His neck twisted. His fingers ran a rhythmic staccato down his leg. A heartbeat or two – a handful of “seconds,” as she was beginning to learn to measure – expired before he continued.

“Regardless, the aim is for us to try to avoid acutely frivolous trappings. Things like infusion-based digestion, where even taking in external nutrition becomes unnecessary, or bodily augmentation with n-minus-one collapse weaponry. First, as a rule, I don’t particularly wish my journeys to be filled by such concessions.”

“You wish to explore from the perspective of the typical wanderer.”

“Not precisely. Special attention is given to anything which would concern the typical Rhaagmini wanderer, or those of lesser means. Mimicking those means through purposefully ascetic behavior isn’t required, but it is desirable. So… that means that we’re not going to be using much in the way of technological crutches, like that type of firearm I showed you back at home. However, the right is reserved to call on bigger and more powerful tools should true need arise.”

Knuckles rapped against his skull.

“Still, I prefer to ‘rough it’ where it doesn’t prevent me from meeting other very important goals.”

Agh, she was already conflicted enough about how she felt and thought about both the journey and the man. Adding self-debate on the underpinning ideology was bound to make her head hurt.

“Second, using the pinnacle of achievements – technological or otherwise – of Rhaagm and similar nations, in plain sight of facetary natives, usually constitutes a problematic influence on those natives’ cultures. Not to mention that when something powerful is shown to well-intentioned or even ambivalent people, it’s all but certain to eventually fall into the hands or heads of more illicit, malicious personae.”

He halted on the edge of a path leading out of the little glade. After a moment, he put the stick under his arm, opened his bag, and stored it.

“Third, and perhaps most important, is a simple fact that isn’t true for absolutely every thinking creature, but the overwhelming majority of them at least. Growth and life…”

The bag closed and a hand brandished something invisible as two brown eyes circled their sockets.

“… or unlife, or what have you…”

The bag was returned to its rightful place.

“… require challenge, stimulation, obstacles, unless we want to perish through psychological complacency. It isn’t necessarily dependence on the fruits of advancement that causes trouble. However, it lends a certain sanctity to the ideal of self-satisfaction. A problematic sanctity, at times, because it comparatively devalues other things – including the self being satisfied.”

Ktsn’s claws rattled, cut short as she clomped down on a bamboo stub and scraped the unwrapped portion of her foot with splinters. Her eyes clenched for a moment, then her claws had to keep going for a moment or two. The sort of irony she found delicious.

The abolition of hunger was a considerable change. A mystical figure visiting her in her dreams and making her into a font of wisdom was a considerable change. Suddenly being imbued with mastery of unknown language was a considerable change.

Arguing that advancements of the scientific or mental or spiritual realms were something to avoid – even conditionally – was, in her opinion, the single most foolish thing she’d ever heard.

“What, do people just stop caring about anything after they have enough comfort for their wants and enough satiation of their needs?” she needled.

Eihks’s body loosened, a person who had fallen from a cliff and broken every bone.

As he spoke, it was in nearly the same tone and cadence he’d used in the village center, right after she’d bared his arcane cap to the world.

“When perpetual and arbitrary satisfaction is all that one knows, then yes – in this existence to which you and I currently belong, one does tend to simply subside under such conditions.”

A memory of lying bound on a bench recurred.

“You said that you could take away my ability to feel any unpleasant tactile sensation, when you were dealing with my cerv-mesh!” sprayed from her mouth, a toxic fan that by rights should have wilted every growing thing in five body-lengths. “Are going to tell me that is bad as well? Is healing bad in itself, hmmm?”

Her clothing felt tight as he suddenly and slowly closed his eyes.

“Prevention of ‘unpleasant tactile sensation’ is different from healing, and it isn’t the blessing you would first assume,” he replied. “I administered painkillers in a very specific, very narrow instance. Preventing pain whose cause you already know and anticipate, that is one thing. For that matter, the ability to quieten pain that has gone on and on is equally beneficial. Silencing all bad feeling permanently? Heh. Imagine constantly having to re-check yourself so that you know you’re not damaged. Learning new ways to determine if something is scalding before picking it up. Years practicing with a knife so you do not accidentally flense yourself when cutting vegetables.”

Mirroring the lethargy of his voice, one clawless fan of fingers propped themselves slowly up, and his eyes slowly migrated to rest upon the comb they formed. He made them wiggle.

“I know that unease very, very well.”

The sudden near-dirge in his voice quenched all mocking amused bitterness she felt; a fire receiving a sludgy mud basting. She was a little stunned as he stuck out the extended arm farther, angling it groundward across his stomach in a down-sign of annoyance rather than negation.

“But we are wasting time. Rambling; my fault – apologies. I’ve never had someone along on a trip like this before. Forgive me if things start getting a little distracted now and then. Simple living, that’s what we’re going to be doing.”

Ktsn said nothing, reaching back and running her hands over her belongings. Her clothing. Her pickax. Her sling, and pouch of stones. A rucksack filled with an assortment of supplies which – until recently – she would have considered more than adequate for any conceivable venture (short of starting a university or a village, perhaps). Now, she tapped at the side where an envelope of seeds sat packed against an exterior pocket. She heard infusion-based digestion, where even taking in nutrition becomes unnecessary in her mind again. She felt a lesser degree of the numbing fatal uselessness that had scoured her upon learning about the extent of Rhaagm’s knowledge.

Then she stopped pitying herself, remembering how her coming on this journey was at least as much her decision as it was her partner’s. She decided that there would be a place for such things, like dwelling and feeling and perhaps even moping, later. Eihks was right: rambling belonged elsewhere and elsewhen. More immediately, they had things to do, if they were goin-

Unfortunately, things went a bit out of control when the beast stalking them through the forest rushed her with harsh howl and gaping maw.

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