Prologue: Eternity

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Note: Taken from surviving fragments of a diary recovered with skeletal remains discovered after a sandstorm near the environs of Fruit City.  

After the usual camp stories, our guides swapped rumors about a strange city under construction by mysterious workers somewhere within the region local know as the Anvil.  No one claimed to have seen the place or admitted to much beyond hearsay, but the conversation fired us with excitement nonetheless.  If true, this surely was something worth seeing and worthy of our long journey across many lands.    

Jean-Luc found a small group led by a real character, who seemed to know the desert better than any of his fellows. Our new friend didn't use a compass nor any other instrument; only the aid of stars and the prevailing winds, how they affected the sand dunes, as well as the positions of certain rocks and vegetation. It was all quite a mystery to us.  It seemed at times almost magical.  He entertained us with tales of star-crossed lovers, demons, and jinn.  We gave him many gifts -- even some gold coins minted by the Parisii, which he and his followers favored highly. With the promise of more gold to come, they proclaimed themselves our "faithful servants in all things."

Everything started off well but naturally Jean-Luc quarreled with the men and they filtered away over the course of our journey.  Toward the end, since there was no more gold, they stole our horses.  Our friend offered to take me with him, but I felt safer taking my chances with the desert.  He left me a camel because he felt sorry for me and because I was a woman.  Jean-Luc and I both rode the camel, but he forced me to walk as the beast weakened.  

Oh how I grew to hate him!

We wandered for what seemed like weeks.  There was no sign of travelers or civilization.  The camel finally died and with it our supply of milk though even in death the beast kept us going for we ate the carcass. I cannot bring myself to write the name I gave her, much less say it aloud. I had come to love that creature and cried like a baby between raw, bloody mouthfuls. Jean-Luc finally had enough and slapped me into silence. 

I blamed him for all of our troubles and fantasized about shooting him in the back. I think both of us were beginning to go mad, though in hindsight perhaps the scales had fallen away and I was seeing the unadorned, true heart of my erstwhile intended.  Staying with him was the second greatest mistake of my life.

We came upon a high mound, obviously built by a savage ruler or warlord.  Was it a mirage? There were trees heavy with oranges, lemons and other fruits.  Melons, date palms, vineyards, almonds: good things of all sorts and all supported by a latticework of irrigation ditches fed by waterwheels powered by people tending strange beasts. Only there weren't any people. We slowly approached.  There was no other choice because we were dying of thirst and exposure.

The workers on the wheels were built sort of like centaurs and the largest were as big as a draft horse. They were insects but had four legs on a long body, and four more powerful limbs depending from their upright torsos. They reminded me of monstrous sun spiders.  One of them stopped its work and approached us.  The horror waved its antennae like a pair of terrible whips as it scuttled up to us in a weird, almost sideways gait.  Jean-Luc killed the thing with his rifle.  Then all hell broke loose. We found ourselves surrounded by more sun spiders and a host of smaller abominations obviously built for fighting, what with their sword-like appendages, spiny carapaces, and twitching reflexes. 

I fell to my knees and despite my materialism recited the Lord's Prayer, for this was all I could remember.  The air was thick with a multitude of bat-like flies and the omnipresent whirling of their wings.  The heat and general stench was indescribable; nearly incapacitating at first.  

Jean-Luc stood his ground and hurled insults at the creatures.  He waved his rifle and dared them to do their worst.  What a fool!  

I felt a scream welling up inside me.  I fought the impulse because some part of me knew that if I screamed I wouldn't able to stop.      

I took in a great lungful of air and held my breath against the panic welling up inside me.  A somewhat human-shaped bug materialized out of a hole in the mound  during those final moments.  What was most unusual about her was the fact she spoke our language without an accent though she sounded like a peasant, albeit an erudite one. Plus she was decked out in rather fine human, native garments and a little silver jewelry.   

I apologized for Jean-Luc killing their worker.  She didn't seem to mind that so much.  We thought our new friend was the queen for all the other bugs seemed to obey her, and she was the only one who communicated with us.  She made us comfortable and had food and water brought.  We met a handful of other people, who willingly lived with these beings and accepted the leadership of their invisible queen.  It seemed as if our new friend was not the ruler after all but a sort of vizier.  I asked Mme Speaker how one got an audience with the queen.  She replied that only a very few of her own people (outsiders were out of the question) could talk directly to her, but that I should understand their greatest ambition was to elevate this place, they called it Hive, into a great trade city where all peoples of the desert could come together in peace and perhaps even fellowship.

When I asked Speaker where her people came from, she said, "Eternity," and pointed up at the stars.

<This entry ends and the following is taken from another damaged page, which seems to be near the extant end of the manuscript.>

[Jean-Luc was killed?] while he tried to escape.  Speaker was apologetic and oozed courtly graciousness; nevertheless I was a de facto prisoner.  There was no question of my ever leaving Hive.  The queen did not want outsiders knowing the city's [location] until their defenses were complete.  Even then their plan was to go out into the world and make contact themselves.  They feared humans and truth to tell Jean-Luc didn't exactly give them any reason to reexamine their convictions.  

...

I knew I could not spend my life in this place for I was pregnant.  I don't know if the child was Jean-Luc's or belonged to our charming guide.  For ten days I carefully squirreled away a portion of my allotted food and water from each meal as well as anything else I could that might aid in my journey.  Fortunately the bugs were generous and respected the privacy of the chamber they dug me. 

One moonless night my chance came and I ventured alone into the desert night.  Perhaps Polaris would guide me back home?       




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