Fleeting Joy

On the morning of his birthday, as the first light made its way through the dense foliage and into the cave camber, Narch stared at the empty wooden table and thought about cake.

Marline, one of his few female friends, had recently introduced him to the concept of birthday cake. He had made it a long time without, but now that he knew about the possibility he really wanted one.

But how? By temperament he was a recluse, an inclination only exacerbated by the fact he was a cottage sized cybernetic spider and so was usually attacked on sight.

Marline, a witch, had been an exception.

One of the peculiarities of living over five millennia is you accumulate a number of highly unlikely experiences.

But she has been dead for over a century now, and besides she had never been good at baking.

Narch felt the loneliness begin to build. He noticed that he was beginning to search his memories for clues about how he’d been brought into existence. The hope was they would help answer the question of why he should bother continuing.

Catching himself, he turned his mind to Carlile the wisdom dragon, who had showed him that sometimes his thoughts did not have his best interest in mind.

When Carlile disappeared, Narch had taken his revenge on the Kingdom of Farl. Geopolitics being what they were, this had led to a confrontation with the entire Southern Alliance, and their God, a nasty deal making wind spirit whose name escaped Narch.

Was it even worth the effort of leaving the cave?

Driving them from the coasts had sent the entire region spiraling into chaos. It hadn’t been that long ago… and without the autocratic monarchs propped up by a conniving false God, would there be enough infrastructure left to support a civilization?

Slowly the memories came back. The Zeglans had regarded him as a hero, and had even shown up at the Battle of Great Falls to support what they called his March of Freedom.

They were eager to try their had at a “new” system of economic self determination combined with a robust social safety net.

For Narch, the question was: Could such Utopian visions create the conditions for a worthwhile bakery? Would they have heard of cake? Or was the concept lost to time like dal’lesh.

Ever the optimist, after a time he gathered his massive frame, and left his abode in search of fleeting joy.

A bridge at the end of the world

There are places where the solid ground we depend on gives way to something less stable. The world we know, air we breathe, the creatures we face, the physics we depend on… all drop away.

In times of plenty, thrill-seekers come to such places, pulled in by the promise of testing their unknown boundaries.

But these were times of disorder, and harsh reality stole the thrill from those who adventure just for pleasure. And so, the bridge at the end of the world was largely abandoned.

Isa had lived on the mysterious stone bridge for a long time. Her home was thatched to the last and greatest of the pillars. A stone monument that rose into the sky, a scale model of an infinite tower. From town, on a clear day, it was just barely visible from St Josias. In times of plenty, the pillar alone would be worth a journey to the end of the world.

For Isa, the dark stone column was an anchor against the storms that raged all around. A piece of solid footing in a place of wind and uncertainty. Some days she resented it.

On a clear day, Isa could see for miles along the bridge. On this day she saw a black speck moving steadily towards her. She sighed deeply and set the water to boil.

**********

[This interaction plays with the idea of fate. The mysterious stranger is afraid, driven by their sense that their mission is to travel the world and accomplish seemingly minor tasks (shooing a butterfly off it’s course, picking up a marble from a busy road – and thus prevent it’s pre-ordained outcome ala chaos theory).

Further, according to the stranger, only those extremely rare events that actually have determinist outcomes are revealed to them. Everything else is powered by free will and random chance. The strangers tasks are a function of that law of indeterminism that otherwise deterministic events create the conditions for an agent of free will (the mysterious stranger) to potentially intercede. The stranger does not know what outcome they are preventing, good to bad, their only mission is to hold back the forces of determinism.

The stranger may not be the best judge of their own true motivations.]

– This is all backstory, not story, I don’t have the story here worked out or how much of that I want to shoehorn into it.

– They travel down the bridge and accomplish something trivial (perhaps after great effort)?

**********

The woman in black smirked when politely asked about her day. In response to Isa’s question she replied “A more interesting question, is why do you live here and invite the wayward strangers who appear into your home for tea?”

“As far as I know, I am the last bit of refuge on the bridge. Nobody makes it this far without reason. Some of them are worth hearing, and some only need to tell their story to be persuaded they truly want to turn around.”

“Are you going to try and stop me?”

“I don’t try and stop anybody. The suicides I try to comfort, and sometimes that reminds them that they don’t want to go. But you can see this place for what it is, and so I know you’re driven by a wider perceptive. I’ve yet to have much impact on those like you.”

Some more small talk. And then:

“What can you tell me about the bridge beyond here?” the woman in black asked.

“I have made it about three days in. The winds get louder and bridge narrows but the stone never gives way. The voices get quieter and more intense. They strike fear into me, and I’ve always turned around. I’ve yet to hear of anyone who has gone further and come back.”

“The voices?”

“The bridge is a mystery, and may manifest itself differently to you. For me, my fear takes the form of voices that haunt me at and tug at the lonely parts of my soul

Not everyone has that experience. But I the ones who have no reaction at all have always scared me the most.”

….

I am hopeful that my quarry is only a days travel in. I was afraid I may not … well I was afraid.

Is your quarry a secret?