The Two Hondo Paradox
“How did you wind up here?” I asked as I helped my friend up. The sky was growing lighter. I could see the sun behind Lantern City trying to burn through a few small clouds.
“It’s been a long time, brother,” Hondo said after taking my hand. He brushed himself off and sighed. He wore a strange brown tunic and green pants. His dark hair was long, dirty and unkempt. He eyed Ink and Rainsong, but neither of us were able to spare a thought for the two just then.
“It’s been a day,” I replied. “Maybe two. But it’s good to see you.”
“It’s been almost a year for me,” Hondo said, meeting my gaze with an odd look in his eyes. “Much has changed.”
“How is that possible?” I asked, though I had an idea. I’d already experienced time travel once.
Hondo gave me a strange look. “You don’t know? Special stones from the moons of a planet called Senna. They let you travel through time.”
I nodded. “We used one to get here. It still just doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. Do you know where we are now?” I asked.
“This planet is called Frostbane. We’re one hundred and forty-two years in the past. That’s Lantern City,” he said with a wave toward the waiting fortress. “Those fools that just kicked me out are the Imperial Guard.”
One hundred and forty-two years. Nearly a century and a half now separated me from my sister. I didn’t know what to say to this, so I decided to move on for now.
“This is my friend, Ink,” I said. “He’s been helping me.”
“A samurai of Senna,” Hondo said. He bowed with hands clasped, exactly as I’d seen Ink do. “An honor to meet you.”
“Likewise,” Ink said, returning the bow with a pleased smile on his face. He still had my jacket, I realized. I’d forgotten about the coat in all the confusion. The salamander had thrown it over his robes, but he wasn’t using the sleeves. They hung loose, flapping as he walked.
“I’ve been trying to find Lena. Have you seen her?” I asked. “Or the rest of the crew?”
Rainsong loudly cleared his throat. “This is Rainsong,” I said, waving toward the toad.
“A member of the House Guard?” Hondo asked. “Nice to meet you.”
The toad mumbled something rude in reply. I rolled my eyes.
“How did you get here?” I asked again.
“Why don’t you come to my camp? We can talk there and come up with a plan. I’ll update you, and you can tell me what you’ve been up to yourself.” He started to walk into the pine forest opposite the direction we’d come from.
“Is that a good idea?” I asked, following him nonetheless. “I feel like I should check the city for my sister.” Lost in the past or not, I was still going to cover my bases. If Hondo was here, why not Lena too?
“We will. It’s market day. The fools can throw me out, but it’s easy as pie to slip back inside on market day, as long as we don’t call too much attention to ourselves. I’ve got eggs and coffee back at the camp. You look like you could use a good meal.” My stomach gave a mutinous growl in response to this. The protein bar I’d eaten on our hike felt long gone.
“You drink coffee?” I asked, surprised. He’d always complained when the adults on the crew drank it, claiming he hated the smell.
Hondo shrugged. “I’ve learned to like it.”
We followed a narrow trail through tall, tightly packed trees. After a few minutes Hondo paused, then veered left. We stepped off the path. I followed the older boy, pushing aside shrubbery and branches thick with needles. Ink and Rainsong followed, trading insults every so often.
A small fire flickered against the crisp morning air inside a circle of smooth gray stones. A robot sat on a stump before the flames, poking a burning log with a stick.
“Ah, hello, Prometheus!” a familiar voice crackled.
“Gareth?” I asked. The robot was dressed in a black cloak, worn open to reveal his once shiny, silver plating was scuffed and scratched. One of his limbs had been replaced with a skeletal, black arm ending in a clumsy claw-hand.
“The one and only,” the robot replied cheerfully. There was a crackle to the words again. It sounded like his voice box no longer worked properly.
“He’s been in these woods for decades,” Hondo said. “Not sure how he got here.”
“I’ve suffered memory loss,” Gareth said with an enthusiastic nod of his head. After battling the glass spiders, the last thing I remember is waking up in this forest several miles from here. That was twenty-seven years ago.”
“And you’ve been here ever since?” I asked.
“Yes. I have been following my secondary directive—to aid those in need. These woods are strange and dangerous, so travelers often need help and guidance.”
“He’s been killing the brain beasts,” Hondo added.
“The octopus monsters?” I asked. “We fought one in the forest.”
“Yep,” Hondo replied. “They read your brain waves and show you things they think you want to see, to lure you deeper into the forest.”
“What have you been up to?” I asked Hondo.
“Let me get some eggs on,” he said, sitting on a log and fumbling through an oversized backpack. “They’re fresh! Got them right from a farm a few miles out from a generous farmer. Tell me your story while I cook.”
He pulled out a small kettle and filled it with water from a leather flask, then set the kettle near the base of the campfire. This done, he pulled out a battered skillet and got to work cracking eggs. He seemed to be dodging my questions. I had been hoping he would go first, but I didn’t mind. I told him everything I had been through so far.
He finished preparing the eggs and coffee about halfway through my story. I didn’t like coffee—particularly not black the way Hondo drank it—but the drink was warm, so I sipped a cup anyway as I talked. Ink seemed fascinated by coffee and gulped down two cups, along with a helping of eggs. Rainsong refused any food or drink.
“This older version of me . . .” Hondo began. Sunny, yellow eggs sat on his plate, untouched and cooling. “What did he look like?”
“He . . . you . . . were several years older. I don’t know, twenty-five maybe? You . . . he . . . had a long, nasty scar. You seemed different.”
“Different how?” he asked.
“Colder, somehow,” I admitted with a shrug. I wasn’t sure what else to say. He’d all but left me to die in a frozen wasteland.
“I can’t imagine leaving you like that,” Hondo replied. He squirmed in his seat a little. He was clearly uncomfortable with the idea of a future version of himself running around. “I must have had a reason. Maybe I saved Lena too.”
“I hope so,” I said. “I don’t think anyone could last long in that cold.” The memory of that bone-biting chill made me shiver.
“The scar on his chin, could you tell how he got it?” Hondo said the words with his eyes on the fire, refusing to meet my gaze. He was using his fork to shift his eggs around.
“No, I couldn’t see the whole—wait. I never said it was on his chin. How did you know about that?” I took a bite of egg. Mine was already cold, but I was hungry, so I didn’t care.
“I saw my future self in Lantern City,” Hondo admitted in a hoarse whisper. “I don’t know if it’s the injury or what, but something changed me. I’m scared of him. We’ll have to be on our guard. I do not want to run into myself again.”
“Did you see you before?” Hondo gave me a quizzical look when I said this. “Did he see you?” I clarified.
“No, it was in passing. He was arguing with a merchant about the price of digging tools. I think he’s involved with the new Pit. I recognized myself and kept my head down while I eavesdropped.”
“There’s a new Pit?” I asked.
“Yes, the people of the Pitworld--which they call Chronos--are here digging another Pit,” Hondo said. “My future self seems to be leading the dig.”
“And . . . why do you want to stop this new Pit now if you’re working on it in the future?” I asked.
“That’s what gave me the idea to oppose it! The future version of me was so angry. I don’t want to wind up like that. I don’t want to be him. If I refuse to help with this new Pit, it’s a way for me to change my future.” This seemed like fishy logic to me, but I was just beginning to puzzle over time travel, so I didn’t mention my doubts.
“Is that the only reason you want to stop the Pit?” I asked.
“No . . . these Pits. There’s something off about this whole thing. Did you know the Pitworlders are humans? Humans that speak English? How did they get to the Chronos, a strange planet in unexplored space? What made them decide to flee that planet? Why are the toads of Senna trying to send people here? And how does a hole in the ground lead to another planet, anyway? I just have a bad feeling about this whole thing, and one of the Pitworlders I talked to agreed, something stinks about the dig on Frostbane.”
“You’ve spoken to a Pitworlder?” I asked, feeling my eyes widen in surprise.
“Oh yes,” Hondo said. “Who do you think is digging the new Pit?”
“What was he like?” I asked.
“Human,” Hondo said with the shrug. “You can meet him when we go back to the city. I need to speak to him anyway. I have to let him know I failed to gain an audience with the emperor.”
“You were trying to meet with an emperor, honored friend?” Ink asked.
“Yes. He’s backing the dig. I was hoping I could convince him to withdraw his support. If I can do that, the dig will stop. No dig, no Pit. No Pit, no evil future version of me running around.”
“Well, what are waiting for?” I asked, standing and brushing off my dirty pants. “Let’s go!”
“Sure thing,” Hondo said. “And maybe we’ll get you some shoes.”
Ink stared longingly into his empty coffee mug. “Could I have one more cup, honored friend?”
A scream and the flicker of flames.
The scream came from Rainsong, who had been startled awake just seconds before I had. We were encircled by six men in strange masks. The masks covered their entire faces and had long, curling horns. The men bore lanterns and rode what I can only describe as legless, purple, flying horses. Night had fallen, and from the stiffness in my bones, I knew we’d been sleeping for a terribly long time. The brook was a silver, moonlit ribbon in the night.
True to form, Ink was already up and crouching in a ready stance, double-bladed sword held in one hand.
“What do you people want?” I blurted out, too groggy and irritable to hold my tongue. I was the last to rise to my feet.
“What brings a frog, a lizard, and a boy to the Wastewood?” One of the men asked in reply. His mask was gold with huge, angry eyes painted in orange and black. “I didn’t believe the reports. I had to come here and see with my own eyes.”
“I’m a salamander,” Ink said. Neither of us bothered to correct him about Rainsong.
“We came . . .” I was about to say we came from another world, but I wasn’t sure they would believe us. “We are travelers. We came from far away.”
“Across the Poisoned Sea?” the man in the golden mask asked.
“Something like that,” I said.
This caused several of the masked men to murmur amongst themselves. I hoped I hadn’t just made a mistake.
“That’s quite a journey,” a man in a silver mask said.
I nodded. “Sure,” I said with no enthusiasm, nervous now about saying the wrong thing.
Rainsong made a noise like clearing his throat. He was frowning, hand hovering where a sword hilt would have been if he’d had a weapon strapped to his belt.
I frowned at him and shook my head. Don’t start a fight, I mouthed. The toad cast me a lurid grin in reply, his bulging eyes glowing like pearls in the firelight.
I turned back to the man in the gold mask. I knew it was a long shot, but I had to ask. “You didn’t see a girl come through here, possibly with by a bald man?”
“You’re the first strangers I’ve seen in the Wastewood since I don’t know when, boy,” the man in the gold mask said. “Visitors are rare out here. Mixed company like you lot even more so.”
My shoulders slumped. I couldn’t help feeling disappointed. I didn’t know how we’d escaped the frozen land if that had been the past, the future, or another world. I didn’t like the idea of Lena and Darkeson being trapped there. If this fair-weather world was somehow the same as icebound one, perhaps she’d been luckier than us and landed when it was warmer.
“You come out here looking for someone?” Gold Mask asked.
“Yeah, my sister and a friend,” I replied.
“What’s his story?” a man in a white mask asked, nodding at Rainsong. The toad was glaring daggers at the masked men.
“I honestly don’t know,” I said with a shrug. “My friend and I,” —I waved at Ink— “only just met him.”
“Well, keep him under control,” Gold Mask said. “Some lantern rangers would cut him down just for staring like that. Lucky for you we’re an easygoing squad. You should look for your sister in Lantern City. Everything winds up there sooner or later in these parts. Nothing waiting for you out here but an early grave.”
“We will, sir. Thank you, sir,” I said, at last remembering some manners.
“Where could we find Lantern City?” Ink asked. He sheathed his own sword but kept a hand casually resting against the grip. It was the same stance Rainsong had taken, with none of the hostility the toad was showing.
“It’s just to the west,” the man in the gold mask said. “Follow the brook downstream, and you can’t miss it.”
“Would you like us to guide you there?” asked another man in a white mask. The remaining men who hadn’t spoken yet all wore plain white masks that made their faces look smooth and featureless.
I glanced at Rainsong. He seemed as though he were on the verge of doing something stupid. I didn’t want to travel with the toad, but for now, we were linked in the minds of these soldiers. Best to avoid tempting the angry amphibian.
I shook my head. “We’ll be fine,” I told the lantern rangers.
“Alright kid. I’m sure you’ve heard, but I like to remind travelers all the same. Don’t follow the sound.”
“What did you say?” I asked, not quite able to believe I’d heard correctly.
“Don’t follow the sound. You’re bound to here something out there. Everyone does. Anyway, bye.”
“Good luck,” said the man in the silver mask.
The lantern rangers rode off, their alien mounts snuffling and snorting like Earth horses as they flew away. As they took off, tentacles unfolded from beneath their bodies and waggled in the air. Each one had six.
“Abominations!” Raingsong hissed under his breath as the masked men rode into the night, leaving us with nothing but the scant illumination of a single moon and a dusting of stars.
“What is your problem?” I said. “You could have gotten us all killed.”
“That is unlikely, noble friend.” Ink broke in. “I am quite sure I could have beaten them. The white masks were all novices. The man in the golden mask is the only one who would have been a challenge.”
“Not. Helping.” I shook my head. “We’re going to this Lantern City,” I told Rainsong. If you want to come with us, you have to behave yourself.”
“For the time being it seems we are stuck together, foolish friend,” Rainsong replied. “But I intend to return home as soon as possible. I have sacrificed all to do my duty. There is no more the House of the Ancients can ask of me.”
“Whatever, man.” I shook my head again and snapped up my backpack, sliding it onto my shoulders. I cast about for my lost boot, but it was gone. Left behind on the ice world. I suppressed a sigh and slid off my remaining boot, shoving it into my bag. I thought about taking off my socks too, but the ground was cold, and I was light years past caring whether they got dirty.
We followed the stream as it ambled through the night into a dense pine forest. The rangers had gone this way. Whatever dangers the man in the golden mask had been talking about, I didn’t plan to stay long enough to learn more.
I had only made it a few steps when my foot landed on something small and hard. The Moonstone. I crouched to pick it up. “Can we use this again?” I asked. “What if Lena’s back on that frozen planet?”
“Moonstones only work once without the light of Senna’s moons to shine upon them, noble friend,” Ink told me.
I sighed and pocketed the stone. Going back had always been a long shot. I would’ve had only seconds to search for Lena before I froze to death anyway.
Ink walked beside me as we continued on our way. My stomach growled. I dug in my backpack and fished out a protein bar. I broke it apart and gave half to the salamander.
I turned back to the toad. He had his arms crossed. He followed us ten feet back, muttering to himself. “You want some?” I asked, waggling the snack bar at Rainsong.
“I would sooner perish than take the food of an Ancient,” Rainsong replied.
I shrugged and shoved the whole rest of the bar into my mouth. “Suit yourself,” I mumbled around a mouthful of food.
“I don’t understand,” Ink said. “I thought your mission was to protect the Ancients. Why such disdain?”
“Dragonlaugh teaches us that the Ancients have lost their way. Like ignorant children, we must help them learn up from down. They try to travel up; we send them back down where it is safe. I do as I have always been taught, but that doesn’t mean I have to like what fools your people have become.”
“And why does that mean you don’t want my food?” I asked.
“Because you need it. Like I said, I still do my duty.”
“And yet you resent the Ancients for needing you,” Ink said. “Quite the conundrum.”
The scents of fir trees and wet rocks were strong in the forest. The air had an invigorating chill to it. I wanted to guess we were at a high altitude, but I couldn’t be sure. The trees were so thick all around us; I could only see straight ahead and behind. I followed Ink’s example and kept a hand on the hilt of my sword.
“THEUS!” Lena’s voice called from the trees to my right. I spun to see my sister standing deeper in the woods, between two tall pines thirty feet away. She wore a plain, white dress I’d never seen before. “Theus!” she called again. “Come quickly!”
I was halfway to the tree-line when Ink grabbed my wrist. “That’s her,” I said. “That’s my sister.”
“The lantern ranger said not to follow the sound, noble friend. Perhaps we should heed his advice.”
I caught a glimpse of Rainsong. He stood by the brook, arms crossed. Waiting.
“I . . .” My voice trailed off. I looked back to where I’d seen Lena. She glowed faintly, I noticed now. I nodded to Ink and drew my sword.
“We go together,” he whispered, drawing his own blade. We crept through the trees. Ink was proving himself an invaluable friend all over again. We had both figured out this was some sort of trap, but he knew I would have to check anyway.
“Theus! Come quickly!” Lena called again as we approached. She spoke in the exact same tone as before, as if her voice were a recording on repeat. The words were tinny and sounded further away than they should have.
We were a few feet away when the image of Lena vanished, revealing a hideous octopus creature with the head of a wolf. Its skin was a deep black, so dark it nearly blended in with the heavy forest gloom. We both raised our blades as writhing tentacles reached for us. I swung awkwardly and cut one of the flailing tentacles away. Ink neatly severed three in one swift strike.
“Theus! Come quickly!” the creature repeated in Lena’s voice. It let out a howl of inhuman rage and flew off, wetly sliding between the tree trunks as it fled.
For a moment Ink and I just stared, swords held in the air. Ink was the first to sheath his weapon. I followed suit after a moment.
“She must have read my mind somehow,” I said. She? I thought. That wasn’t Lena. “It,” I corrected. “It must have read my mind.”
Ink nodded thoughtfully but didn’t speak.
“You. . . . That was seriously disturbing,” Rainsong said. “You are a magnet for trouble, foolish friend. I can already tell.”
“Thanks for the help,” I replied, trying to keep my voice level. I didn’t want to fight with a toad in a strange forest on who knew what planet, but I couldn’t help feeling irritable.
“Lizard Boy had things under control,” the toad replied. “Besides, I’m unarmed.”
“I am a salamander, friend. And thirty-three. I had heard frogs don’t have good eyesight; I suppose this confirms it.” The salamander winked at me as he said the words.
“You know perfectly well I am a bona fide toad!” Rainsong replied with an indignant stamp of his webbed foot. “A junior guardsman in the House of the Ancients!”
“Let’s just keep moving,” I said. “The sooner we get out of here and find this Lantern City the better.”
We walked for miles. I lost track of time and distance as we settled into a rhythm, Ink and I walking side by side, Rainsong several feet back. The toad would mutter to himself occasionally, but otherwise, he was content to merely follow and leave us be. I told Ink the story of how I’d gotten us here. We tried to figure out where we were but came to no conclusions.
Ink was the first to spot Lantern City. It sat on a promontory past the forest that jutted from the edge of a cliff, which backed up my theory that we were at high altitude. Massive stone walls rose forty feet into the air. Towers along the length of the fortress-like structure were nearly twice that height. The city derived its name from thousands of lanterns hanging off hooks from nearly every available surface. Most of them were swaying in a gentle breeze. Lantern City lit up the night like a firecracker that had somehow been paused in the sky, a thousand lights scattered in all directions.
The city was surrounded by what looked like a moat. There was no water I could see, just a drop-off. A raised drawbridge blocked access inside. Men in white masks stalked the battlements of the city’s high wall. They carried long, spear-like weapons that glinted above their heads in the city’s scattered glow.
“Maybe we’ll find Hondo here,” I said.
“He said ‘see you on the other side’, did he not?” Ink asked.
“Yes, but he seemed different somehow. Older.”
We were less than twenty feet from the drawbridge when it began to drop. A loud groaning and clanking filled the night as it was lowered on chains. I looked over the edge of the chasm and saw that there was no water in the moat, the drop-off just descended into something I had never expected to see beneath my feet again.
What have we gotten ourselves into? I thought. This world was much stranger than the last. As far as I could tell, Lantern City was just floating in place, and that was just one among a dozen oddities we’d encountered in the space of a few short hours.
I was about to nudge Ink and have him take a look when two men in silver masks strode across the drawbridge. They were followed by a man in a golden mask who bore one of the tall spears.
The two men in front were dragging someone between them.
“Stay out this time, you lousy beggar!” the man in the gold mask shouted. Not the same voice as the man we’d spoken to in the Wastewood. Gold seemed to indicate higher authority, but apparently, there was more than one of them. “We’ll have no more interruptions from you!”
The two silver masks grabbed their prisoner by the shoulders and gave him a solid heave off the drawbridge and onto solid ground. He scrambled to his feet, shouting in a familiar voice. “You don’t understand!” he cried. “You can’t finish the Pit!”
He was closer to the proper age this time, younger than when I’d seen him in the frozen wasteland, but I’d have known my old friend anywhere.
“Hondo!” I called out.
We fell through darkness, careening downward at a sickening pace. Brief flashes of light came from what looked like underground tunnels. I saw stalactites and small torches, and once I thought I saw a little girl, but everything went by so quick I couldn’t be sure.
We were falling so fast the wind whistled in my ears. Ink shouted something, but I couldn’t hear what he was saying. Spinning end over end at high speed, it didn’t take me long to lose my backpack, jacket, and right boot. I have a history of losing my right boot.
I was worried about my sword coming loose and skewering someone, so I did my best to keep my hand on the hilt. I lost all sense of time as we fell. I couldn’t tell if it was fifteen minutes, or thirty, or an hour. We seemed to drop out of time itself, crashing through blackness into the unknown.
Just when it seemed like we might fall forever. . . .
We seemed to be hanging in mid-air. I still couldn’t see, but I could hear again. My face and arms burned from the rush of wind continually striking against my skin, and my head was throbbing. Moving carefully—afraid I would somehow knock myself off an invisible perch—I rubbed at my eyes, wiping away tears. I should have kept them closed as we fell, but I’d been afraid I’d miss Lena.
“Is everyone okay?” I called out. I could hear Ink and Rainsong breathing in the darkness.
“I am alright, noble friend,” Ink replied.
No answer from the toad.
“I think our adversary has fainted,” the salamander said after a moment.
“Where are we?” I asked. I reached my hands out—still being cautious—but couldn’t feel anything. I strained my eyes trying to see, but all was pitch dark.
“I’m not sure, noble friend. I don’t think we’ve arrived yet. We are still descending.”
“We . . . what?” I was quiet for a moment. He was right. I could still feel myself moving; we were just going so much slower now. At first, it felt as though we’d stopped.
The air was cold, and getting colder the lower we dropped. Whatever world we were headed into, it was going to be bad for me and worse for Ink and Rainsong.
Without warning, we began to pick up speed. Gravity took hold, pulling us through darkness. We burst into open air, and a frigid wind tore through us. Ink cried out in pain. An arctic landscape spread before us. As we fell, I saw mountains in the distance. Strange, angular clouds drooped from the sky. We landed on ice. Not hard enough to break bones, just enough to knock the wind out of me.
I gasped, running bare hands through an inch of snow that had fallen over the ice. The cold was like nothing I’d ever felt. My fingertips were already going numb, and I could feel my damp socks freezing against my feet. I crawled to Ink.
“Ink!” I cried. “Stay awake!” He mumbled insensibly. You weren’t supposed to sleep when you were extremely cold. How were we going to get out of this? I searched for the toad. He was a few feet away, still unconscious. “Rainsong!” I called. I got no reply.
I swung around, studying the frozen land. I found my boot, my jacket, and my backpack. The jacket was close. I grabbed it and threw it over Ink. I stared at the backpack, trying to think. Did I have anything warm in there? I couldn’t seem to concentrate anymore. I was shivering violently now, my body trying to keep the chill at bay.
I staggered toward the boot. I had almost reached it when I saw a shadow moving between gusts of swirling snow. A figure walking toward us. Footsteps crunched on the snow. He wore a warm fur cloak, the hem flapping in the gentle but frosty breeze.
“Hondo?” I asked in disbelief, barely able to mumble the words.
“Use the moonstone,” Hondo said. He seemed different. Older by at least a few years. A long, stitched-up wound ran from the edge of his chin down to his neckline. “Strike it against your own hand. See you on the other side.”
And with that, he turned and walked away.
“Hondo!” I called. “Help us! We’re—I’m dying!” I tried to follow him and slipped on a shallow rut in the snow, falling painfully to my knees. “Come back!” He returned to the shadows. After a few seconds, I could no longer see anything but craggy ice and falling snow.
Could it really help us? What good would moving six hours in time do?
It’s better than nothing, I thought. Use it while you still can.
I staggered back to Ink. One of my feet felt like it was on fire. I’d never put on my other boot. I’d been too worried about losing my companions. I fished through Ink’s pockets, but I couldn’t find the stone.
“Take us to daylight,” Ink whispered, and the moonstone slipped out of his palm onto the ice. I grabbed it, then looked at Rainsong. Even though he was an enemy, I couldn’t leave him here to die. I shuffled over to the toad and dragged him next to Ink, grabbing my bag on the way. I slid my left arm through a strap, then I awkwardly pinned one of Ink’s arms and one of Rainsong’s beneath my left elbow, hoping that would be enough.
I raised the moonstone with my right hand and struck it as hard as I could against my left palm. This time there was a violent flash of light. I felt even dizzier than before. The world seemed to turn green, and warmth flooded my body.
The world had turned green; I realized as I studied our new surroundings. The cold and all the terror it brought with it were gone. It was replaced with a meadow carpeted with soft grass. A forest grew tall to my left. In the shadows, I saw the glimmer of fireflies. A brook babbled quietly to my right. The warmth of a hot, yellow sun shone on my face.
Could this be Earth? I thought.
I tried to stand, and the dizziness took me, the green grass and blue sky spinning together. I was also bone-tired. My limbs felt like they weighed a thousand pounds each. It took all my strength just to stay sitting up. I laid a heavy hand on Ink’s neck, then Rainsong’s, checking for pulses. Both of them were still alive. Their skin was deathly pale, but the color was starting to come back.
Something huge blotted out the sun above. It looked like a whale. A flying whale.
“We’re gonna go with not Earth,” I said aloud, my voice hoarse and dry. Was this the same world as the frozen wasteland? It seemed so peaceful and so perfect. The weariness deep in my bones tugged with a power like gravity. My eyelids drooped. My day had started with a spacewalk. That seemed like a hundred years ago now.
Where would Lena be now? There had been no sign of her or Darkeson in the frozen land. I wanted to call out and search for her, and I wanted to tend to Ink and Rainsong and make sure they were okay, but I was utterly exhausted. I peeled off my socks. The ice had begun to melt, but they were still cold. My feet were beet red. No sign of frostbite, thankfully. I let my toes curl into the soft grass.
I was concerned about my safety, my companions, my sister, and my lost crew, but I let myself drift off into a deep sleep, and all my worries flitted away like fireflies on a summer breeze.
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A mysterious world is discovered with a massive, miles-wide pit torn through one continent. The planet is strewn with the remains of a fallen civilization. What happened to the locals, and what were they digging for so desperately? A young intern assigned to the first expedition into the Pit will be among the first to find out...
J.L. Ender was born on planet Earth, third planet in the Sol system, which is located in a spiral arm of the Milky Way galaxy. Ender enjoys coffee, Mexican food, and devastating robot apocalypses. He has tamed a member of the local wildlife, a thing called a dog. In a fit of confusion he named it Bear and often finds himself walking the creature.