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By Anna Francis

It began with a mind. This mind had once been empty but as we meet her now, she is filled.


A din of birdsong pulls her towards a tangled wood now within view. She ambles her way with nimble feet finding tread, though the path now tangles with pushing roots -

What are you still doing here? Drive!

The mind, now closer, hears the birdsong revealed. It is not a harmony at all but a million tiny sparks, akin to the sound of a fuse blowing in a lightbulb. She reels back, searching the scenery for any explanation, but the world is fading away. Each blow of a fuse extinguishes a piece of this place. It’s disappearing, it is becoming darkness. The mind, grasping for answers, turns and locks eyes with the birds who remain against total engulfing black. Their golden eyes turn to orange. Then to red. Then burn raging fire -


What the fuck is wrong with you?!

Who are you?

Can you fucking not hear me?!

I said -

I’m not a sodding cab -


A stall explodes just meters away from them showering the wagon with embers and debris. Matilda awakens. This stall was the last to blow. Beyond it all that remains of the Saturday Grand Market is blazing fire. Matilda grips the reins in her work worn palms and jolts the horse at the end of them into motion. Odille is flung back into the wagon bed as the two disappear from the square. Frantically dodging falling beams and burning buildings until finally, they emerge onto the top road, escaping the bounds of Luicidad.

The horse slowed to a stop. The two women sat in silence; Matilda gripping the reins, eyes fixed ahead. Odille, pressing her weight into the floor of the wagon, drinking up the flames that now stand in place of her home, her life. Some time passed like this, with not a sound between them but the panting horse and the crackling city.

Matilda snagged on the reins to leave -


We should wait for the others.

Please, can we?

This is the only road out of the city.

I want to wait.

The horse stilled once more and Matilda, her head stooped and breath low, released her fists to her lap. A gravelling sigh escaped with her breath, exposing a little of the woe she was keeping walled within. Odille asked for her gaze but she did not turn. She could not.

Do you not want to see?

I’ve seen enough o’this.

You haven’t even -

Since I found you, you couldn’t have even looked for a moment.

She was right. Matilda had not faced a flicker of the fire. How could you look upon something so consuming and walk away unscathed?

I was there. Right in the centre of the Grand Market.

I’d just joined my friends. I was running late and…

Matilda listened as her companion in fate told of every detail that made up her morning. How the friends had been saving for weeks, trading all sorts for the right tokens to share a taste of a curious new fruit with furry pink skin and sweet orange flesh-

Yes, I know peaches.

Well, I even traded my old cats gravestone for tokens!

This crackled Matilda’s stone mask just a slight and tempted her into a glance back at Odille. She was lying in the wagon bed, walking her mind through the clouds. The girl could not have had a care in the world before today, concluded Matilda.

When I got there Hague ran straight off to save one. Then the air suddenly tasted like coal.

It wasn’t too long before we heard the first screams. And then it was everywhere. The market stalls were all lit up and I just started running. I didn’t stop until I reached your wagon. And then we were gone.

The embers refracting in Odille’s tears looked almost beautiful to her. Almost.

Matilda studied the road. Ahead, the neat stone paving abruptly gave way to dirt track, lined with the odd building (farmers lodgings, wagon repair huts, outhouses for travellers). In all her many years upon this soil, Matilda realised, she had never ventured further than this square of paving. Her mind recalled countless nights working in the factory where she had escaped into fancies of another world. But still it had never sprung to mind that Matilda’s own feet could bring her this far. And with just one step more her world could grow a little larger. At once there was a pang from deep inside Matilda’s soul, a calling from her life and all that came before her. She leapt down from the seat of the wagon and had run back not four paces before being struck in awe.

The women looked down upon a desert of smouldering ash, untainted by footsteps.

No one was coming.

Odille sat in a trance, tracing the items that had escaped with her in the wagon. Fruits too bruised for sale, spare signage, a curious little box with contents that rattled. She peered down at the object a moment, then let it drop to the floor. With its falling she uttered,

Time to go.

She traced her way silently into the drivers seat. Humbled into childhood by the destruction, Matilda clambered into the wagon bed and pleaded of the young woman -


Odille smirked to herself. She did not know all the corners of her city yet, and here an elder asks if she knows where lies their future. She answered as best she could:

I guess, forwards.

And the wagon rolled off the stone paving curb and onwards down the dirt track road. Matilda breathed in the view of her fallen city one final time. Then, with a sigh, joined Odille on the bench, and fixed her attention ahead.

My mother would tell me a story about another world when I was little. One that looked like ours but was really nothing like.

Matilda nuzzled her chin tighter into her chest and curved her shoulders in objection. Odille continued, undeterred.

It was a world driven by beauty. Every day the people woke up with their fingertips glowing, literally lit up. I used to imagine it like tiny twinkling stars where our nails would be. And over the day the people would see beauty in the world and pass the glow with a touch onto what they found beautiful. Nature, sculpture, whatever. In one particular town there was a boy who finished every day with ten fingertips still glowing. His was a town that most valued the beauty of people. At school the other students would dance and play and share their glow together. On the walk home other parents would greet their children with light and smiles they had saved especially for them in the day. But all the time the boy kept himself, and his light, to himself, and walked alone on his way home to the shadows at the edge of town.

One day someone new entered town; a little girl and her family. The boy watched as the girl skipped alone to school running her fingertips through the summer breeze, leaving her glow trailing behind her. He didn’t know you could do that. By the time it came to school she had already given all of her glow away to the air. So whilst the other children exchanged their little lights she just played with them. After school the boy, tired from a day in the shadows, decided to go the long way home. Coming up to his favourite tree he heard a voice calling after him. It was the girl. She wondered why he still had all his light. The boy said bluntly, ‘because I haven’t found anything to give it to’. This sounded strange to the girl, so she asked, ‘well can I use one then?’. The boy shrugged in an ‘I guess’ kind of way. So the girl took his hand, finger pointed ready, and turned it back on the boys chest. With a smile, she pressed his light into him, ‘there’. The boy smiled back.

The other fingertips didn’t even last the afternoon after that, and not a day has gone by since that he has had any light to keep into the night.

Odille smiled into the midday sun, letting it stroke her eyelids and ease the knots in her brow. Matilda’s mind drifted off to the side, peering between the buildings to the thin slices of green growing thicker as they slowly trundled on.

Is this where we’re headed to then?

Matilda remarked.

You looking for a future all aglow with beautiful people -?

That’s not the point.

Matilda’s sneer faded as she tasted the metal in Odille’s response. She squared herself with the storyteller and searched in Odille’s face for some furthering of an answer.

Then what - ?

My mother brought that story from her grandmother’s mother. She hadn’t even clothes on her back when she arrived, just a baby, but that story was branded onto her mind. And now that’s all that’s left of any of them. Of all the stories in all the worlds.

There was a new ache that pinched at Matilda’s collar bones and wrapped in her shoulders tight. She patted the young woman’s leg gently to reassure her, but Odille flinched away -

It’s just a kid’s story.

We’re naught but stories in the end.

The women looked to one another, as the wagon passed the final abandoned building lining the paths edge. Dark timber sliding and busheled thatch roof, the same as all the others they’d passed on the journey so far. The same as all those that once made up their Luicidad. The building met its edge, the dirt path faded into grasses and all became engulfed in light. Lush green marshland traversed the landscape as far as the two could conceive. Odille was drowning in the majesty of it all.

Go on.

Matilda smiled, taking the reins with one hand and gently shooing Odille off with the other. With both hands Odille met the earth. It could not have been more unlike the stone paved ground of her city. Matilda watched on as Odille’s fingers found life within the grasses. They waited for the chaos to engulf them and the poison to seep in as they had been taught to expect in the outside world. When it didn’t, Matilda laughed. She tugged at the reins, rolling onwards. Odille wove her way behind the wagon, inspecting near every blade of grass as marsh turned to meadow.

The wagon came to a halt.

I thought it were just a child’s fancy, but here they stand.

Matilda whispered. There before them, illuminated in the afternoon sun, were the Ruins of Inertia.

Me’Pa told me of these ruins. He would fill my mind with stories of their lore and strife and innovation. In my dreams I walked the walls, living out the tales of my father. And they’d visit me, the people of Trenbore.

I’d never thought I could see them for myself.

Matilda sunk from the wagon and offered her hand out to Odille, who accepted.The two women walked together around the maze of twisting stairs and towering archways, and as they did so the people came to them. They knew their presence as you know the spring air from the summer on your back. With the comfort of an old friend the people whispered into the women’s minds. They laughed and danced and resided about the ruins listening to the silent tales told by the moss lined bricks. They shared their own histories too. Odille spoke of her mothers, her friends, the lamp shop she grew up in and the first person who bought a lamp she had made. She recounted places she had loved in the city and conversations she’d had about the future and what she may do with it. Matilda told of life in the darkness of the submerged factory. Of the isolation felt in childhood by an absent wandering father full of tales that came only too sparsely, until they ceased to be told at all. Of the community she found in the dark that, with her father’s tales and a questioning mind, she brought into the light.

I’ll ask you this, what does a ruin bring to mind?

What do you mean? It’s a ruined place, a failure of the past -

Is that so?

These ruins have outlived those within. The peoples that placed those stones carved a history, invested their legacy into founding a future for whatever began at their end.

It was us that ruined them. With our little markets stalls and illusions of order.

We have sealed our own fate to follow in their footsteps. Footsteps that now lead us blind from the fire.

Odille felt the world shrouding in on her. She could not place exactly where, but somewhere in there Odille was made small.

If I’ll gi’yah one lesson, Lass, let it be this - the lecturer so continued - observe history.

It is there to be stood upon, not besides.

And how do you aim to stand upon history having now helped to obliterate ours?

For a moment silence contained them. Matilda, with eyes like an owl, studied Odille and was met with a smouldering iron glare.

You chat and chat on about everything that is wrong - was wrong with our world. Maybe you’re right and fire was the only solution, but you know maybe you were wrong. The world was shit, historically shit, yes. Our society was woven rage with more holes than net. This was the truth as I saw it. But you - somewhere along the way you fell into the rage. And somewhere along your history you’ve learnt to weave patterns for yourself. And yeah yours were tight knit. The holes were smaller, the knots stronger, fewer people fell through and more learnt like you to weave the rage into something else. Until all at once the thread was overdrawn and the matting too tight. It had to burn. But in all that did you ever consider you didn’t have to weave at all? Life was gated by the powerful for you, and I was fenced in by the rage of the powerless. And now both our lives burn. Maybe that fucked up world of ours could’ve become something more than fire. But I guess we’ll never know now will we? I guess now my future must rise miraculously from the ashes.

How did you -

The matchbox. You left it in the wagon you absolute tit.

I can only imagine the disappointment -

I left them on purpose -

Oh sure, bought matches on the black market for a souvenir of the occasion-?

When it came down to it it just didn’t feel right -

A coward and a terrorist -

We had to do something.

To do nothing is to die nothing.

So you chose the destruction of everything?

It wasn’t meant to -

What was the plan?

To light the fire.

And after?

Matilda stood at the ruins threshold and searched into the shadows of the woods beyond. With the sun now low in the sky the light was disturbingly sparse. Matilda turned back to Odille and sank onto the ruin wall.

Change was ours to make.

We had no past, and without past -

I’m not interested in your propaganda jargon bull -

People were suffering.

It was endless. We had to make them see.

There was no other -

Don’t you fucking dare pretend this was for the benefit of the ashes.

To do nothing is to die nothing, you said. Everyone’s a story in the end, you said.

You did this so you’d become a legend whispered in the ruins. Without even a thought to what comes next. Well you failed, because all that is left of our world is us, and I will not remember you.

The women were locked in their gaze, sharing only breath and venom for what had passed between them. Night folding in drew their eyes to the stars. They shone brighter than they had ever known were possible in the smog of their past life. Matilda whispered to them;

There were once a man who tread a road of privilege. The sun glowed from his smile. The breeze whispered his praise, the sand parted his touch with ease and gratitude. Nothing was too much trouble for this man’s desire, and nothing was ever worthy of his eye.

After some time contented in his own company, he met a stranger on the road who told him of a prophecy: The 6 Burning Fires. So it was told that for all treading the path of life there are 6 sparks waiting to become flames. As we emerge from our mothers, so too the sparks are born from the sun. They begin as little suns in their own right, journeying to the earth via the stars. For the stars are souls, whose time on earth has run out. The stars dance with the suns, drinking up their heat in exchange for tales of the world. By the time they reach your path the tiny sun has all but burnt out, leaving just a spark. It is for you to ignite the lessons contained within. It’s our duty to recognise the sparks in life. With freedom we must choose light or darkness. The man tutted the stranger to the side without so much as a wavering hesitation. He continued on his straight and comfortable path. And thus, his first spark was extinguished.

Why are you telling me this?

I think you’re right. I am sorry for what happened. I didn’t see how things could be different.

But now we together are tasked with the creation of a new world, if we choose it.

Odille looked to her companion, then out at the shadowed ruins around them, then in to the mangled woods ahead. She felt the whirlpool of stories churning in her mind. Arms outstretched, the weight of the past rushing through her, she let out a scream into the ether. And then another. Howling, crying, churning up all of the rage and the hate and the pain and the joy of life. Matilda laughed a moment, instinctively tasting the shame of judgement, but when glances over her shoulder turned up empty, she joined in. The women howled at the woods and the meadows and the wagon and the fruit and the ruins and the buildings and the ashes. They howled at each other. Streaming eyes with pain and relief.

And then, it was over.

Odille and Matilda collapsed onto the ground, beneath the sky of twinkling souls. Strangers and family. They lay in wait for a new sunrise, to inspire a new tomorrow.

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