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.