Every day before dawn the girl stood on the quiet shore by the bridge, staring at something beyond the dried seabed and scattered pools of muddied water that made up the Vanished Sea. It wasn’t a very safe place to be at. It was too close to the Øresund and within reach of the scouting lights, but it was also reasonably quiet and free of scavengers, which made the already dangerous task of krebsdyr hunting a bit more bearable.

With the passing of the years, Saga had learnt to identify the safest spots on the beach, if such a thing as a safe place still existed. It took her many warning shots from the bridge – although the scar on her left arm told her that the soldiers at the Øresund couldn’t really tell the difference between a warning shot and shoot to kill – but in the end she had managed to find some blind spots along the shore.

She was standing next to an oddly shaped rock formation which shielded her from the biting winds and the hungry lights. The stone was slightly warm to the touch and uncannily smooth at some points, even slick, which made her feel uncomfortable and weird. Saga wasn’t sure whether that stone had always been there. Sometimes, when she thought of home she saw the rock among faceless, common people basking under a clouded sun. It towered above all of them, casting a curious shadow over the unaware individuals on the beach. Some other times, the stone had never been there and there was only a blank, unoccupied space which cast a curious shade over the white sand, like a half-formed thought or a nearly forgotten dream.

It didn’t really matter. The rock had probably been unearthed after the Fennoscandia decided to kill the Baltic Sea with a series of dry detonations. It had been a desperate measure to prevent the Danish forces from reaching Malmö¸ and lock them down in Amager. They were in the wrong, of course, war always finds a way, but by the time someone tried to make some sense of what was happening, the sea was already boiling itself away to a pitiful bunch of exhausted puddles. The resulting mist lingered for almost a year and for that time something resembling peace but more akin to shock seized the countries. It didn’t last. War always finds a way. As soon as the fog lifted and the targeting systems in Danevirke were functional again, Gothard retaliated with a devastating attack that rendered the Øresund uninhabitable.

Saga remembered the lights and the mist, but they were gone now, like most of everything else

It didn’t really matter. Saga’s world had shrunk to a muddy shoreline and a watery hole somewhere deep below the sewers.

Dawn. Although the sun was trapped beyond an almost perpetual cloud-layer, Saga could feel the first rays of sunlight pressing against the overcast sky. The bridge would be opening soon, which meant that the hungry lights would go to sleep for a while. It was her chance to hunt some krebsdyr.

Saga reached into the depths of her dirty fatigues and found her stiletto. It wasn’t a very efficient weapon, but it was the best she had managed to get without killing anyone and it was extremely useful when hunting krebsdyr. Besides, it had proved more than handy against other human beings when necessary.

Saga left the relative safety of the rock as soon as the lights receded. Before her, the seemingly endless expanse of the Vanished Sea stretched in every direction all the way to what had once been Malmö. Bands of greyish sand rivetted the decayed seabed among the isolated patches of marshy, polluted waters and congealed mud. All along the dying sea, interspersed at seemingly random intervals, dark rocks of an almost spherical shape littered the swampy grounds. There was a trail of disturbed dirt behind every rock, as if a wind too slow to be perceived had gently been blowing the stones up and down the sea. After the mayhem that blew up most of the marine life in the Øresund, the krebsdyr were one of the very few species that had been able to adapt to the aftermath and now riddled the ever-diminishing sea.

Saga treaded carefully, negotiating a path among the treacherous puddles of murky water. Her steps, swift and sure, made the tools in her belt produce a low, tingling noise. It was a relatively clear day and Saga could see many discarded krebsdyr shells scattered around. It was becoming increasingly difficult to find an intact crab. Although their almost utter immobility made them an easy prey, they were very hard to carry due to their immense weight and the way they clang to the ground. Saga had had it relatively easy at the beginning, preying upon those krebsdyr closer to the shore, learning to find the right spot in which to insert her stiletto, considering the right amount of pressure to apply, so that the shell would finally give up the meagre piece of meat at its core.  However, as months and even years passed, she had had to walk further and further from the shore every day in order to find a suitable prey.

Saga was almost a kilometre into the Vanished Sea when she found the first krebsdyr. It was as tall as her knee, jet black and nearly completely round. The first time she had seen one she had mistaken it for a rock of strange proportions, but when closely inspected, one could see that the creature was no more than a morbidly overgrown crab laden with an arm-thick shell.

The krebsdyr was uncannily warm, as usual. Saga knelt beside it and put her ear against its surface. She heard nothing at first, but after a few seconds a distinct, suckling sound became evident. It wasn’t difficult for Saga to find the pressure spot. She looked around to make sure no one was near and then looked up at the bridge. The soldiers were probably busy scouting the trucks carrying supplies to Malmö. Saga introduced the tip of the stiletto in a tiny crack of the shell and made a swift, blunt move.

“Leave it alone!”

Shit. It was a woman’s voice. Saga glanced quickly at the bridge but saw no one.

“Leave the crab alone, bitch!

Saga stood up, eyes darting in every direction. She held her stiletto in a tight grip, ready to plunge it into whoever came too close.

“Get away from it or I’ll gut you!”

The voice came from somewhere dangerously close.

All of a sudden, a krebsdyr holding a makeshift spear rose from the seabed some ten steps away. It was impossibly big and incredibly fast, considering that its legs were buried beneath a thick layer of chitinous shell. The crab spoke again:

“Get away, you fucking moron!”

The creature was running towards her now, arms slightly raised, tumbling with empty husks and rocks alike. Saga had seen many strange things in her life as an outcast, but never anything as grotesque as a giant, talking crab. As the thing drew closer, Saga understood. The humanoid shape wasn’t made of krebsdyr but coated in it, like some sort of exceptionally cumbersome armor with a sturdy, little woman embedded in it.

“Shut up, fool!” Saga finally reacted, “the whole fucking bridge must be on alert by now!

The crab-woman lunged at Saga with her weapon, ready to injure and possibly kill. Saga jumped aside, barely avoiding the thrust.

“Stop it, you cunt. You’re gonna get us killed!”

“Leave it, leave the crab, leave it!”

The woman was ready to attack again when the first shot hit her in the head. There was no blood, only the sound of rupturing stone as the woman collapsed on the muddy floor.

“I downed the monster, Soren. That’s twice the points.”

The voice came from up the bridge.

“Oh shut up, it was impossible to miss that shot. The blond bitch is a much smaller target. Watch and learn.”

Saga could almost hear the soldier taking aim. The shore was too far away and there was nothing she could use as cover. There was still a way. She started to run towards the bridge. If she could reach it in time perhaps she would be able to run to the shore before they sent someone to look for her below the bridge.

“Leave it… leave the crab…”

The woman stirred.

“Oh shit not this, not now, not now!” But she couldn’t leave her behind. Although it was the logical thing to do, although that stupid crab-woman had almost got her killed, she simply couldn’t leave her behind.

“Oh shit, oh fuck.”

The next shot missed her by less than an inch.

Saga pulled with all her strength and started to drag the woman, but it wasn’t nearly enough. That damn, stupid armor was far too heavy.

“The crab, the crab…”

“For fuck’s sake, shut the fuck up!”

Saga drew a knife from her belt and cut the woman free from the chitinous toil.

The next bullet pierced the air where her head had been a second earlier and got lost in the mud with a muffled sound.

“And you call that aim? You are getting old, Soren,” laughs boomed uncomfortably close over her head.

Saga knew she had been extremely lucky. The soldier wouldn’t miss the next shot.

She had almost made it to the bridge when she felt something bite her left arm were the old scar was. It was a burning, familiar pain that ran all along her limp.

“See that? I told you I’d make it,” Saga heard a voice say somewhere above the darkness of the bridge

More laughter, further away this time. Indistinct chatter. Looming pillars. Walking krebsdyr. Suckling rocks.

“The crab… the crab…”

Saga collapsed.

Light and Wave

“Could you please stop doing that?” she complained, her feet half-buried in the wet sand.

With a waving of his hand, he released the tides and the tranquil waters came to crash gently against her pale ankles.

“Thank you” she said mockingly, and went back to play with the waves.

It had been a while since they had last visited that beach. It was one of their earliest memories, almost as old as their tree, but for some reason both of them had forgotten about its existence until that morning. Still, the place had not forsaken them, and as soon as they had walked within the boundaries of that distant shore, the white sands welcomed them, as if only an instant had passed, as if the waves and the tide had been waiting for them to return ever since they had left.

Perhaps they had been waiting. Perhaps the gentle breeze and the distant cries of seagulls were just that, a welcome, the relief of a creation being acknowledged by its creators.

They didn’t know and they couldn’t know for sure. In some ways, in many ways, that world was still a mystery to them, as much as they were to it.

“You lost again” he said as just another wavelet found its way between her bare feet.

~Idiot, she sent through her mind-touch (which meant she wasn’t angry yet but would soon be if he kept teasing her that way).

He smiled and turned to his old notebook.

It was a simple game indeed. She had tried to teach him many times, and every single one of those times they had ended up quarreling.

“You are doing it wrong!” she would always say.

“Why, because I’m winning?”

“No, because you are thinking!”

And then she would turn and, facing the sea, she would wait for the next wave to break before jumping once again.

Gracious, her feet would take off just as the thin sheet of water that had been a wave spread under her. For a moment, she would stand there, frozen in mid-air, a breathing statue waiting for the right time to come back to life, until the sea claimed its waters back and her feet, still dry, touched land again.


“But that’s what I’ve been doing all the time!” he would complain.

“No it’s not! You calculate the speed of the water, the direction of the wind, the humidity in the air, the friction of your feet against the sand and then perform the most perfect jump your calculations allow you to. You cheat!”

“And isn’t that the whole point of the game? To make the most perfect jump? To never touch the water? To never lose?” At this point, his voice always adopted that rational tone he employed every time he knew (or he thought he knew) he was right.

“No boy, this is not about winning or losing, not even about making the perfect jump, as you put it. It’s about reacting, letting your body and your instincts take over you without knowing or even caring whether your feet will end up getting wet or not.”

And then, seeing how pointless it all had been, seeing in the deep of his eyes how incomprehensible that notion was for him, she would finally add with a sad smile:

“But I guess that’s your problem, right? You can’t stop knowing. You can’t stop thinking.”

After that, she would turn and face the horizon (which after that kind of argument was usually a colour between a stormy grey and a dying twilight) and resume her game as if nothing had ever happened.

In the end, they reached some kind of silent agreement, a wordless pact according to which she was allowed to play with the waves mostly undisturbed while he waited for her on the blanket scribbling on his old notebook.

He had tried to understand her game many times. He had analyzed the rules, or rather the lack of them, from every imaginable point of view but had failed miserably to grasp its purpose. Did it have any purpose at all? What was the point of deliberately letting luck and chance decide the outcome of anything at all when they could level entire continents and extinguish suns with the blink of an eye? For life’s sake, they were Gods! They were supposed to know everything, to think everything!

Sometimes, as he observed the lines of her shape getting ready to react, he thought he understood. There was something in that reckless abandon of hers, in the way she let her small body talk to the waves. Sometimes, he thought he could hear the waters talking back to her, silent, welcoming, caring. Sometimes, in that brief moment of absence in which her heartbeat almost came to a halt, he thought he understood.

But then, when the waves broke to drops and the drops turned to foam in a pattern so perfect and predictable, he remembered how pointless it all was and turned to his old notebook, where everything was orderly and clear.

From time to time, when words got stuck in his head, he liked to watch her play. Although he knew he’d never be able to understand the purpose of such a pointless game, he had to admit (at least to himself) that there was something soothing, almost relaxing, in watching her play.

It was in one of these pauses that he discovered a different way of enjoying her game. Like every god, he had learnt to appreciate the delights of destruction, the bitter sweetness in the undoing of things made to last, even if that thing was briefer than a heartbeat.

He looked at her, a dark shade against the dim light of a dying afternoon, and closed his notebook. He had to wait until the precise moment, or it wouldn’t work. Too soon and she would realize. Too late, and it wouldn’t matter. So he stared at her and, as she started the small ritualistic movements that would take her towards that careless state in which nothing mattered, he let his influence creep freely over the sands, towards the sea, an unseen breath of sheer will and silent determination sweeping and expanding.

Still sitting on the blanket, he let his mind mix with the waters, feeling every single little drop of blue, lost and alone in that vastness that was the sea. He mounted the waves, rushing, staring, studying, waiting for the precise moment to act.

He waited as her concentration built up, careless and unaware, pure wild intuition following the trail of some unconscious pattern. Watching her from both shore and sea he wondered once more at the way she let her mind commune with the elements. It was as if she was the face of a many-sided coin, ready to flip and reveal a new, previously unknown aspect at any instant.

He listened as probabilities around her started to fix, knowing that the moment was close, looking for that exact split second in which her feet left the ground and time almost ceased to be.

And there it was, shining bright like a tiny flame in the fiercest of voids, alone but not scared, completely vulnerable and exposed.

Now, he thought, and the world stood still.

A surge of pure warning gushed from her, piercing his mind, bending his shields.

He knew he shouldn’t. He knew he mustn’t.

But still, what if…?

He released the tides and all around her turned into chaos. A towering wave the shape of a wall swallowed her shape in a furious confusion of sound and foam, chewing her body with watery jaws.

When the full realization of what he had done hit him, he stood up and ran towards the shore, leaving a trail of white dust in his wake.

He waved his hand in a quick swipe and the whole sea retreated into itself, a quiet barrier of quivering waters shining in the distance.

Panting, he scanned the seabed with a single, wide glance. With a gesture of his finger, he forced the whole world into silence and listened, searching for her heartbeat. He searched through the countless tiny souls of mice and men, among the tired heartbeats of the exiled gods, in the vastness and the roots of their old tree and found nothing.

He tried to reach her through their mind-touch, lowering all his shields, shattering barriers he had spent so much time raising, almost exposing his very core to the world, just to find the slightest clue of her presence.

Nothing. No trace, not even the distant echo of her, or an afterimage. No hint or trail for him to follow.

What have I done?

Blink. A tremor in the distance. Waters quivering, coming to life. Sudden motion.

For a moment he stood there, motionless, thoughtless, speechless, watching as the waves rushed towards him with borrowed rage; a huge, massive barrier of hungry waters stretching towards the margins of the world, threatening to swallow everything in its wake.

As he tried to stop its seemingly unstoppable advance, he realized it was too late. There was no thought these waters would obey, no command they would kneel down to. It was as if every single drop had suddenly regained a consciousness they had been denied long ago, as if they had been woken up from an ancient slumber, ready to take revenge on those who had imprisoned them in their unconscious sleep.

He knew he should be afraid. He could remember the last time the elements had rebelled against them, how utterly devastating the fight had been and how they had almost lost themselves to a world they had just started to tame.

Yet there he was, watching instead of running, awe-struck as the raging waters swallowed the sun and came closer and closer. There was no time to think, no time to react, no room to-

Suddenly, abruptly, the waters came to a halt.

He tried to move, but he couldn’t. He tried to think, but he couldn’t. It was as if something, someone had taken hold of his heartbeat, pinning him down in that spot, forcing him to stand there and watch as the waters, now quiet and still, finally settled down and the world was plunged into silence once again.

There was something there, moving beneath the very surface, something great and dark, hidden among the layers of crystal-like substance; a presence, calculating, estimating, analyzing.

And all he could do was look at his own reflection. He was trapped, a helpless prey caught in amber, unable to move, to run, to speak.

In the silence of the world, under the eyes of that unknown will, he heard the rumour of their old tree, faint and reassuring. He knew it would only take a few moments to get his heartbeat back, to re-synchronize and have his powers back. But for the first time since he could remember, he didn’t want to do that. He didn’t want to be in control, he didn’t want to know or to think. He didn’t know what was going to happen next and he didn’t want to know.

Uncertainty. That was the word.

The mirror broke with the sound of a thousand shrieks and he was stricken by an unseen force. He fell down, slowly, as if the air around him had suddenly got thicker. For an instant, he had the feeling that he was being gently pushed down, as if the presence in the mirror, now freed, wanted him to witness its arrival.

Shiny little particles of water floated in mid-air, frozen in a trajectory they would never be able to complete. It was only a crack, a ragged hole of clear sky against the dark background of a liquid wall. Pulsing white light poured through the breach, long thin needles of clarity piercing the dark waters.

As he finally fell down, he could glimpse a dark spot inside the cascade of sunlight, growing, increasing in size until it detached from the brightness and became a fully formed human shape.

She approached him with slow, heavy steps, as if time had ceased to matter, as if nothing mattered anymore.

“You are powerless” she said, looking down at him, wet hair hanging down the sides of her inscrutable face.

~And what are you going to do? he sent, still unable to move or speak.

She moved her hand, ever so slightly, and the world around them burst into chaos. A tempest of water and foam raged above them, behind them, around them, until silence swallowed all sound and every tiny little particle of water and light froze in place.

Without taking her eyes of his, she blinked, just once, and the whole sea started to fall on them like a cloudless rain.

Silence followed.

Monastery of Silence



~Yes, truth.

They were sitting on their favourite bench in the gardens of an old monastery. The place was as silent as it had been the first time they had found it on one of their occasional wanderings.

They had been visiting one of the most populated memory cores they had discovered up until that moment. That core in particular had adopted the shape of a pre-industrial crowded city. It was a place full of people and smells and noises. Beggars, priests, noblemen; the highest and the lowest mixed up, living in a perpetual state of chaos, a city inhabiting its citizens. Always in motion, ever on the brink of change, but not quite.

At first, they enjoyed it. They bathed on the pungent smells, they soared the screeching noises, they searched and found themselves in a toothless smile, a tired glance, a manic laugh; ever moving from one body to another, leaping from one soul to the next, until the presence of the city became too big and complete and their heartbeats too distant and faint and they had to run away.

They named that place Chaos, and swore to each other never to return.

The monastery had been hiding in a small mountain range next to Chaos. They had found it almost by chance, if such a thing existed in their world.

~You once asked me how I would define the world if I could only use one word, and that’s my answer. Truth. His thoughts echoed in her mind as clear and close as if they had been uttered.

To an external observer, they would have looked like a young couple sitting on a bench under an old pine tree, lost amidst the silence, not minding each other.

~That’s rather a vague answer, she sent back. Truth can mean everything or nothing at all.

They lost themselves in the silence of the monastery for a while.

It hadn’t been a conscious decision for them to use their mind-touch. As soon as they stepped into the gardens of the monastery they immediately understood why they had been drawn to that place.

The transition had been smoother than dawn. At that moment, they both had felt it, had been aware of it, but as they walked among the bushes and the trees, as they approached the old silent building, they forgot how to talk, how to speak, and they suddenly realised that words were forbidden in that sacred place.

It’s not that they couldn’t speak. That was their world after all, and they knew that they could choose to speak if they so wished, but they also knew that, as soon as they had crossed the unseen boundaries of the monastery, words had turned into meaningless blurbs of sound, careless and irrelevant, obscure references to meanings far beyond the surface of their thoughts.

~That’s precisely my point, he signalled, breaking the static of their mind-touch. Truth, or rather the absence of it, defines not only my world, but everyone’s.

She glanced at him sceptically, raising an eyebrow. She was used to this kind of categorical claims but still, his sometimes utter lack of humility never failed to surprise her… or amuse her.

~Enlighten me, she sent mockingly.

He moved, ever so slightly, and his distant expression turned into a more focused one. She watched him as he rearranged himself on the bench, turning his body towards hers, fractionally, almost imperceptibly, just like every time he was about to say something momentous (or something he had been rehearsing in his head, as she had learnt to notice).

~Take for instance the people at Chaos. They live their lives in constant motion, a perpetual process of change that never ends. Their lives are like the water-flow of a thousand rivers, only their rivers are birthless and purposeless, furious streams of raging waters preying upon one another. His thoughts flowed in an orderly row with the clarity and certainty he always tried to convey in his discourses. Each of his words was limited and constrained by its own distinct shape, instilling his speech with a rationality he sometimes lacked.

In the inner layers of her mind, she laughed secretly at that. After countless conversations, voiced and silent, he still felt the need to modulate the tone of his voice, to carefully choose every word, as if the wrong choice could destroy any possibility of communication.

Perhaps it could.

She turned her gaze towards the old monastery and, signalling the precise amount of eagerness, urged him to continue.