The Sisters Green and Gray [Part 1]: The Slide
The Sisters Green and Gray [Part 1]: The Slide
She isn’t always there,
The ring of green so true,
A sister to the moon,
An embrace that comes too soon.
They move across the sky,
The sisters knowing why,
A forlorn place to cry,
But the sisters never pry.
For though they rise for us,
Bending time, space, and direction,
And though they are dangerous,
They are agents of discretion.
-From Duality: The Poem of the Sisters
Children were not supposed to climb Portent Hill, let alone grab sheets of metal or synth and slide down it on their bellies. The elders of the village even told adults not to venture there to scavenge, despite all the useful materials to be found in the area. Long ago the people of Gesia Village learned that strange events tended to occur on the hill. Now only Idor, the enclave’s Aeon Priest, was supposed to go near it.
And yet each year, on a night when the moon was full and large and its green band was visible to the naked eye, the children ventured forth and took the hill for themselves. For these children were raised in a uniquely inquisitive culture, providing their young minds with a blend of optimism and bravery drawn from their ancestors’ penchant for knowledge and exploration. The people of Gesia were once refugees from a great old city now lost to the ages. Their campfire stories were filled with epic heroes and bold seekers of wisdom.
The children could not have held themselves back from Portent Hill if their very lives depended on it. Such was the force of their collective will to adventure. Of course individually the young were not all so foolish. A girl named Forlasha practically needed to be dragged up the grassy slope by her sister Giada that night.
“This is idiotic,” Forlasha cried, but her younger sister would have none of it.
“Come on ‘Lash! They’re already up there. You need to find a sled.”
Cresting a low portion of the ridge Forlasha looked down upon the metal side of the well-known landmark. Strewn with large sheets of debris, it seemed to be roiling up from the earth in slow motion, caught in a moment when the numenera peeked up out of the ground. Younger kids were sliding down into the dangerous metal sheets and structures, prying loose any pieces they could and passing them up to the top. They all knew their crime was serious, and so only loud whispers could be heard above the grinding and clanging of the children’s scavenging.
Giada began her own search for a sled, and so Forlasha finally resigned herself to the task at hand. She drew her long staff from its strap on her back and began to poke at the metal below. Some of it was quite loose and dangerous she could see. She already heard the other kids, most of them younger than her, beginning their trips down the grassy side of the hill. She grimaced.
Forlasha was nearly a full-grown woman at 17 years, too old to be engaging in pranks like these, she often told herself. As an acolyte of the aeon priest she knew better than to venture into a location so known for strange events. But she didn’t want to let Giada get hurt by herself, and she could see a few of her friends at the higher portion of the hill. Maybe this could be her one last try at fun before venturing into life as an adult.
She started to slide carefully down into the metal, controlling her movement with the synth staff Idor had given her years ago as both a symbol and an instrument of her studies of the mysterious numenera. It took only a few moments before she had flipped a free sheet of metal and grabbed it with one hand, turning to head back up to the others. She had a knack for metal things which defied reason. It was like they obeyed her. Giada was near, clawing her way through the debris, chucking parts below.
“Careful, you’ll cause a slide.”
Giada nodded seriously and produced a pair of heavy goggles from her pack. She slid them on and went back to work, engaging the old numenera with a verbal command which activated its night vision capabilities. Now her throws were more deliberate.
“What are you doing anyway? There are sheets for sleds all over the place.”
“I thought I saw something glow,” Giada replied as she pulled at a particularly bulky machine, covered in drit.
Forlasha immediately went on guard. Glowing was a dead giveaway of active numenera. She needed to get her sister out of the area quickly before something terrible happened.
“Move aside, Gee!” she yelled.
“Quiet! You’ll alert the scouts,” Giada whispered harshly. Just then she slid aside the machine she’d been prying at, revealing a large plate underneath. The broad plate gleamed with iridescent green swirls upon its gently curved metallic surface. The swirl patterns moved along it in an undulating rhythm that was almost hypnotic.
“Whoa,” she whispered crisply as Forlasha scrambled over to her. Giada lifted the surprisingly light object and held it aloft, revealing a maze of numenera circuits on the underside and two heavy synth straps. As Giada gaped at her find the other kids whistled in admiration from above, and Forlasha peeked down into the hole her sister had made in the hill. A flashing magenta light from deep inside blinded her briefly and she began to stagger. Within seconds the landscape was in motion, growling and bucking, as though the drit and metal above were mere skin stretched across a skeleton of machinery below. Both girls began plummeting down the metallic hillside.
Giada was the first to get her head straight, still clinging to the plate and able to see in the dark due to her cypher. She came out of a roll and slammed the plate down, grabbing the synth straps and riding it as a sled. Her sister was not so lucky, tumbling down the hill on her back and wincing from a wide gash in her leg made by one of the passing machine parts. Giada tried waving, but her older sister was clearly in her own dark world, half-blinded and hurt.
After a long, violent moment the girls came to what had been the bottom of the hill. They were now in the shadow of a growing structure of sleek metal, glistening in the emerald and silver moonlight. But they didn’t stop there. They continued to slide down into a crevice which now surrounded the towering numenera like a moat.
By then Forlasha had regained her composure and most of her sight. She began using her staff to slow her, straining with all her strength. Giada managed to stop her descent as well using the plate. They both held their positions for a moment. They had ended up close to each other, but were scared and confused, panting with fear and exertion. Just as Forlasha stood up, righting herself with her acolyte staff, a familiar magenta glow spread across both of the girls, the exact color as the flash from before. It was unbelievably bright in the pitch blackness of the crevice. Forlasha covered her eyes and Giada tried to quickly move out of the glow, but to no avail.
An eerie creak and a series of clicks could be heard echoing for a moment before the light intensified and the girls were suddenly engulfed in its brightness. In less than a second they were gone, as was the light.
Screams from the top of the hill as the rumbling of the land subsided. The sisters were not the only young ones to disappear that night.
Giada awakened first. They each lay on slabs of soft metal, caressed by spongy, steely surfaces. A cool light in one corner of the room granted only a simulation of real vision. Giada felt for her night goggles but they were not on her head. She glanced around, eyes straining in the odd lighting, and saw her possessions set gingerly upon an ornate side table of some kind.
“’Lasha, wake up,” she gently shook her sister by the shoulder. “We need to figure out where we are.”
She saw that her sister’s wound was gone and the only blood that remained was dried upon her clothing. This troubled her greatly. How long had they been unconscious? Was there some numenera at work? Forlasha began to awaken after a moment, groaning. Giada grabbed her things and began assessing their situation.
It looked like all her belongings were still there: a scavenger pack containing a handful of shins and her knife, as well as a few bits of junk she’d picked up that day. Her goggles were present, but seemed to have lost power. Not usable beyond eye protection now. The plate she’d grabbed that started the metal slide leaned against the wall, alight with every shade of green imaginable. She packed it all up and looked around the room some more. Forlasha stood as well now, holding her head and examining where the wound had been in her side.
“There’s a door here I think,” Giada said as she pushed on an oval-shaped indentation in the wall, as tall as a person. She instinctively slid her arm behind the straps on her sled, making a functional shield out of it. The green glow of the plate actually lit the area pretty well at this distance. She could see a ring of green metal on the left side of the tall oval. Its colors swirled exactly as her shield did, clearly of the same material and origin.
Forlasha was still a bit weak and disoriented from the slide; still confused by the light which seemed to have transported them here or knocked them unconscious. She used her black synth staff to keep upright, hanging onto it with two hands.
“Let me take a look,” and Forlasha moved to the oval. The teachings of the aeon priest rushed back to her in an instant. She began the formal process of decipherment when presented with an ancient device. What her sister saw as an oval with a circle in it had a number of potential meanings within the context of the numenera. She also noticed what her sister had not, a set of six carvings along the right side of the “door”. These were perhaps the most important elements of the device, easily missed by those who would look only to the obvious and shiny pieces of the puzzle. She grabbed a bit of drit from the dusty ground and rubbed it into the indented writing, making each etched symbol far easier to see.
“These symbols, I know some of them… this is the sign of the perpetrator. This one is the sigil of the lost visitants, adorned as a warning. These are not good signs Gee. We may be seen as prisoners by these numenera. This might be a holding area. Get my notebook.”
Giada crossed the room and pulled a heavy, leather bound notebook from Forlasha’s pack on the ground and returned with it. Forlasha snatched it and without looking flipped to a page with several of the same symbols as were shown on the wall.
“This one is asking for a passphrase to open. It’s like a whisperlock.”
“Well drit. How could we possibly know the right word? It’s probably not even in Truth. Some alien language, long dead, right?”
“Give me a second. I need to look over what we studied about the “lost visitant”-type numenera,” Forlasha explained. “It’s a particular style of magic, not related to most others. Their language is unique too and we don’t know all of it, but we have a few words. And we don’t know what those words mean, but I can utter them all and see if one does the trick.”
“That sounds dangerous. What if it triggers some other command?”
“Well, what’s the alternative?”
Giada shrugged and then braced herself for the worst, hiding behind her shield with only one eye peeking over the plate; her knife held underhand up above her shoulder, ready to stab. Forlasha slung her pack on and held the book aloft, speaking each of the ancient words carefully to the silent room. Something in her knew this was the right procedure.
She had a sense for numenera machines due to her odd connection with metal. It was her special talent, an ability to sing to them in her mind and see them dance. As she said the words, using the proper pronunciation she’d been drilled on as an acolyte, she also reached out with her mind and sang to the metal machine inside the wall. It vibrated imperceptibly, awakened from its ancient slumber.
Halfway down the list of words, a change came over the door and Forlasha stopped her litany. The oval glowed with the same cool white light that lit the metal room and the small green circle turned black. With an audible *thunk* the air changed and the oval slid out and then to the side revealing a long corridor beyond.
The girls made eye contact briefly and Giada moved through the oval hole; shield held out, knife at the ready.
“Ok, I’ll say it. Where are we?” Giada said through clenched teeth. They’d been exploring the dark complex of metal and synth for over an hour, creeping into rooms and poking at objects with Forlasha’s staff. They’d found nothing indicating just where they were or why they’d been put there and Giada was getting impatient.
“Not sure, obviously. I’d guess we were transported into that machine that was rising during the slide. We were really close to it.”
“So, we’re still near the village?”
“Maybe,” Forlasha said coldly. She didn’t want to discourage her sister, but at the same time she was an acolyte of the Order of Truth. An aeon priest in training. Hiding behind hope wasn’t exactly their way of doing things. Sometimes the truth is hard and cold, but in this world you had to face facts or die foolishly. They had no direct evidence as to where they were or how long they’d been unconscious. They could be on the green band of the moon for all she knew.
Both sisters were dark and brooding realists in their own way. Forlasha had discovered her talents with the numenera during the accident that killed their mother Fora. A forcefield had gone up during a complicated scavenging run three years prior, cutting Fora in half. Forlasha had been there and still carried the mental scars of the event. It had made her colder and more logical, determined to use her newfound abilities to protect their family and people from the dangers of the old machines. She was ultimately fearful, but she tried to transform it into the needed calm of a leader or expert.
Giada, now fifteen, was less affected by the death of their mother. She had always been a sharp-tongued and rebellious girl, unwilling to carry the burdensome mantle of femininity. Giada was brave at heart, only emboldened by the heart flutter of fear. She was a warrior in training, earmarked for great things by the leaders of the village defenders, though they had yet to tell her so. She was grit and fire, spitting at those who would call her weak or cowardly. The young girl bore more scars than most her age, always getting into fights and tumbling down hills of one kind or another. This last scrape was only the most recent of many dangers she’d courted.
But this situation was another matter entirely. Cut off from their village, the girls knew their only hope of survival was exploring and probing the limits of their metal cage. They had to find escape soon, or at least food and water or they were going to be in trouble. Forlasha’s thoughts in particular were enshrouded by this fear as the two of them searched room by room. They were excellent scavengers, each taught well by their father, and so moved as a single unit; carefully, but with the swiftness of practice.
A few more hours seemed like an eternity, but they finally yielded an interesting landmark: an immense door at the end of an ornate hallway. The girls were hungry and weary, so they stopped by the door for some time before actually examining its locking mechanisms.
Giada now carried a meter long pole she’d found with a white crystal shard at the end, forming a sturdy spear. The weapon had far better reach than her knife, working well paired with her shield. They’d also found a small device Forlasha identified as an energy receptacle, halfway discharged. She had rigged it into a cypher, easily made to explode once thrown or otherwise disturbed. A third item appeared to be a piece of art, a tiny bust of a visitant carved in green stone. Giada took it, maybe as a memento, maybe as rightful bounty for an adventure this dangerous.
After a brief rest Giada stood before the large double doors, attempting to stare them open. Forlasha used her staff to lift herself up and joined her sister before them. Both scoured the surfaces with their eyes, seeking any tiny clue to getting inside.
“Will that drit trick work?” Giada asked.
“I don’t see any signs here. Maybe the only beings likely to use this door already knew what to do.”
Giada began to push for a while and then tried to pull on the left side, though finding a handhold was difficult. No luck.
“Can you use the… I dunno, nanites? Can they sense this thing? The technology inside the door?”
Forlasha closed her eyes and sang a song in her head, the notes of which each resonated with the different metals of the passage. They didn't respond well, interacting in ways she couldn't predict or control. A cacophony of reverberations howled back in anger. Too much metal, too heavily layered, not delicate and interwoven like the lock to their cell earlier. She wasn't powerful enough to affect it on this scale.
“My powers can't alter the numenera of this thing, like it's all really simple and mechanical. It might just be jammed or physically locked, rather than through magic. But I can't really call upon the nanites the way the priest does. Not yet. My natural abilities are different."
Giada nodded grimly and pulled up her shield. Her left hand tightened on the strap as she held it perpendicular to the ground, ready to charge the doors down the center. Her eyes became slits and she visualized her success for but a moment. Doing so sent shockwaves of motion throughout the green swirls on the outside of the shield. Forlasha could see that the plate was reacting to her sister’s will, activating at her touch. But before she could warn her, Giada was off; speeding down the finely decorated hall and smashing shield-first into the doors, ignorant of the numenera artifact she’d activated in her hands.
The doors blew open in a blast of spiraling verdant energy spewed outward from the shield, lifting them off of their hinges and flinging them into the room beyond. A rush of cool wet air raced into the hall. A feeling not unlike the crispness of a lush forest emanated from the chamber while Giada staggered to keep from tumbling from her momentum. Forlasha gasped as she looked upon the immense tree which dominated the cylindrical room. Bathed in golden light, it floated on air, rotating slowly.
“Fruit,” Giada whispered hungrily as she stepped forward.
Image Credit: adapted from Forward Vision Head-on Collision (Variant) by Surian Soosay on Flickr under CC2.