Worldstrings

by Fredrick Obermeyer

Tezan Vesko pulled down the hood of his tunic and looked up at the worldstring’s sky. Gray clouds obscured the yellow sky and the orange sunstring that stretched horizontally across the heavens.

Below the clouds, Kallenis, one of the young girls from the village, flew past with a few others, looking for a stable gate. Tezan waved to her as she and others went in different directions, and she waved back as she headed south.

Beneath Tezan, the ground rumbled and cracked from earthquakes. He looked out at a field of burning red songgrass; the air was filled with bitter smoke.

The elders said that the worldstring would end soon, and Tezan could see it first-hand. Yet despite the danger, Tezan strode confidently across the Land of Ten Thousand Grasses.

As he forged ahead, a moan came from behind him. Tezan stopped and looked back. His friend, Darjen Astenvar, was lying on the ground, his face taut with fear.

“Are you all right?” Tezan said.

“No,” Darjen said.

“Here, let me help you up.”

Tezan reached down and picked Darjen up. Looking unsteady, Darjen wobbled a bit. Tezan helped steady him. Darjen threw his arms around Tezan and held onto him tightly. Not wanting to embarrass his friend, Tezan carefully removed Darjen’s hands from around him.

“Sorry about that, Tezan,” Darjen said.

“Forget it. I’ve gotten worse hugs from Old Lady Danthel. And she didn’t smell half as good as you do.”

Darjen chuckled. Tezan laughed too and patted his friend on the shoulder.

“Come on,” Tezan said. “We’ve got to find a gate before someone else steals all our glory.”

Just then another tremor struck. Tezan teetered backward and remained calm, but Darjen screamed, fell back onto the ground and clutched some whitegrass, his face white with terror.

“We’re going to die!” Darjen said.

“Maybe someday, but not today. So let’s get moving.”

“I can’t, Tezan. I’m not strong like you.”

“Yes, you are. Now stand up.”

Tezan yanked Darjen off the ground and gently pushed him forward. Another tremor rattled the ground. Darjen screamed and spun around as if he expected a spiker to burst out of the ground and maul him.

Tezan kept a cocky grin on his face and marched forward. He’d never let his own fear show.

Despite weeks of searching, nobody in the tribe had found a stable gate that led to a habitable worldstring. They would have to soon, though, or all of them would die.

Tezan was confident they would succeed.

Down the grassy plain a way, Tezan discovered a patch of brass-colored flygrass and some green Tallaris root. Upon seeing the area, Tezan sighed wistfully. He used to play flying games here as a child along with Darjen’s older brother, Cavis, many years before he had disappeared from the village. It was also near the spot where both of Tezan’s parents had died during the Great Flood.

Out of respect for Cavis and his own lost family members, Tezan bowed to the holy root of the gods and then moved on to the flygrass.

Trembling, Darjen collapsed next to the root and begged the gods for deliverance.

Tezan pushed Darjen down onto the flygrass. They pressed their hands into the blades, absorbing the temporary power of flight.

As he floated off the ground, Tezan laughed and spread his arms.

“Come on,” Tezan said. “We’ll find a gate faster this way.”

“No,” Darjen said. “You go on. I’ll head back to the village.”

Irritated, Tezan grabbed his friend.

“Tezan, don’t!”

“Remember what Elder Yakuved said to us.”

“What?!”

“‘True courage is not fearlessness. It is moving beyond your fear.’”

“Easy for him to say.”

Tezan lifted his friend off the ground. Darjen yelped and flapped his arms like a drunken bird.

“Relax, Darjen.” Tezan made three circles in the air, wishing he could fly forever. But he knew that frequent exposure to flygrass eventually led to deathsleep.

Darjen tried to protest further, but Tezan pulled him high into the air.

Free of gravity, the two teenagers soared across the endless plain. Tezan held out his free hand and whooped. Darjen gasped for a moment, but after a second he spread his arms hesitantly and smiled, the fear fading slightly from his face.

Further along the sky, Tezan looked down and saw a lavender-colored gate on top of a plateau. It flickered, though, revealing its instability. More ominously, a vast field of silver deathgrass surrounded the plain below the rock.

“Darjen, look!” Tezan said. “A gate.”

Tezan helped his friend land. As soon as they touched down, Darjen dropped to his knees and puked.

“Do you still have that blade of callgrass?” Tezan said.

“Right here,” Darjen said, pulling out the mirror-colored grass from his tunic.

“Get the others down here. I’ll go through and make sure it’s safe.”

Tezan ran towards the gate.

“Wait,” Darjen said.

But Tezan ignored him and entered the portal. His ears popped and time and space seemed to stretch out. When passing through gates, time stretching varied from mere minutes to hours or even days. Each gate’s time stretch was different.

Sometime later, Tezan popped out the other end and found himself standing in a dark land full of blue glowtrees and chirping insects. He shivered and exhaled, his breath misting.

We’re saved, Tezan thought.

He ran back through the gate. But as he did, a force slammed him into the glowing tunnel walls. The corridor spat him back out onto the plateau where Darjen was still whimpering.

Above him, the sunstring was lower in the sky.

Several minutes must’ve passed, Tezan thought, looking up.

His fellow tribesmen were flying in from all directions.

Seconds later, the first group landed next to Tezan.

“Is the worldstring livable?” a teenage girl said.

“Yeah, I checked it!” Tezan said. “Go quickly!”

He gently pushed her and two older men towards the gate and waved for the others to come in. More tribesmen landed on the plateau.

“Come on!” Tezan said to Darjen. “Go through.”

Darjen shook his head.

“Move it, slowpoke!”

Tezan ran back over to him and yanked him up as a mother and two children, a boy and girl, ran for the gate. Several more fliers landed and came up behind the family.

Tezan shoved Darjen towards the portal. As he did so, it collapsed, folding in on itself. The mother and daughter were crushed instantly, their blood painting the nearby rock a grisly red. The boy pulled back at the last second and the gate cleanly severed his left arm at the elbow. He gaped in shock at the jetting stump.

The collapsed gate exploded, blasting the boy and everybody else backward. The sudden release of energy split the plateau into several pieces that tumbled down towards the deathgrass valley.

Ears ringing, Tezan barely managed to regain his balance. Jagged rock pieces flew at his head, and he ducked out of their way before they struck him. Rocky shrapnel hit several other nearby fliers, decapitating one and knocking out several others.

Gasping, Tezan looked behind him.

Apparently stunned, Darjen hurtled towards the deathgrass.

No! Tezan thought.

He swooped down and caught Darjen’s tunic a second before he hit the grass.

Others weren’t so lucky.

Most managed to fly away, but others had been knocked unconscious and others didn’t have time to react. Over forty bodies, including the injured boy, landed on the soft, thick deathgrass. Their skin turned bone white and their veins black as tar.

As Tezan dropped Darjen on the ground far away from the deathgrass, he looked back. Three tribesmen who hadn’t used flygrass were still dangling off the plateau’s remains.

“Darjen, help me get them!” Tezan said.

Darjen shook his head and cowered behind some nearby whitegrass.

“Gods damn you!” Tezan said.

Tezan turned and flew back up to the cliff. One of the victims, a young girl, screamed as she lost her grip. As she started to fall, Tezan zoomed up and grabbed her tunic.

“It’s all right, hold on!” Tezan said.

She hugged him tightly as he flew her to safety and dropped her in the whitegrass. With her saved, he flew back to rescue a young man next.

But the man dropped before Tezan could reach him. His head struck a jagged outcropping. Tezan watched in horror as the man’s corpse tumbled down the rock to the deathgrass, leaving a smeary red line in his wake.

The last victim was an old man. Two other fliers rushed in from the east, though, grabbed him and carried him to safety before he could fall.

Frustrated, Tezan flew down to Darjen. His friend stumbled up, whimpering and quivering.

“What’s wrong with you?! Tezan said, shoving Darjen back. “You could have saved him!”

“I’m sorry, Te–Tezan! I– I got scared!”

He raised his fist to punch Darjen. But his friend squealed and threw up his hands.

Distraught, Tezan lowered his fist. He couldn’t even bring himself to punch him.

“Don’t talk to me,” Tezan said.

He strode away and kicked a clump of whitegrass.

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All told, the tribe lost fifty-three people in the disaster.

Guilt burned in Tezan as they returned to the village. Although nobody blamed him, the dispirited looks of the tribe pierced his heart like a spear.

I got those people killed, Tezan thought.

Grand Elder Yakuved walked up next to him. He was a tall, wrinkled man with a bald head and a long white mustache. Ever since his parents had died in the Great Flood, Yakuved had taken care of him.

“Don’t feel guilty, Tezan,” Yakuved said.

“How do you know how I feel?”

“I see it in your eyes.”

Uncertain, Tezan turned to him. “How are we going to escape now?”

“If the gods meant for us to leave here, then they will show us the way.”

“And if they don’t?”

“Then we will die. Either way, it is their will and we must follow it.”

Forget their will, Tezan thought. We could have made it if I had found that gate sooner.

“Pray to the Tallaris root. Maybe there you will find an answer.”

“Yes, Grand Elder.”

Yet Tezan didn’t feel like praying. He felt like sleeping for a hundred years.

Back at the village, Tezan climbed into his brown shellhide hut and tried to get some sleep. Yet the memory of the falling young man and the deathgrass victims haunted his dreams. He couldn’t save them. He couldn’t save anybody. All he could do was fall endlessly into the fiery cracks of the worldstring.

While trapped in his nightmare, someone shook him awake.

Tezan gasped and shot up.

Darjen was inside his hut, shaking.

“I’m not talking to you,” Tezan said.

“Tezan, please. Someone wants to speak with you.”

“I don’t care. Let me sleep.”

Tezan lay back down, but Darjen shook him again.

Knowing Darjen, Tezan figured that his friend wouldn’t stop pestering him until he got his way. Another tremor ruined any further chance for sleep.

“This better not be a joke,” Tezan said.

“It’s not. Come on.”

Tezan followed his friend away from the village and into the night. Far beyond the village, Darjen had Tezan stop.

A figure in a blue cloak emerged from a patch of tallgrass.

Tezan gasped.

It was Darjen’s older brother, Cavis His right arm hung lamely at his side, and he had deep scars across his face.

“Cavis?” Tezan said.

“So you remember me.”

“I thought you died in that cave in with your parents.”

“I thought I was dead too, but fate had other plans for me.”

“If you were still alive, then why didn’t you come back to us?”

Cavis looked around nervously then said, “There’s something I need to show you, Tezan. It’s very important.” He turned to Darjen. “You sure you weren’t followed?”

“I’m c-certain.”

“Certain for you is like uncertain for the rest. Let’s check again.”

They did a quick check of the nearby grasses. It was clear.

“What’s going on here?” Tezan said.

“I’ll show you. Follow me.”

After a moment’s hesitation, Tezan did so.

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An hour later, they landed near a cave on the side of a large, wishbone-shaped mountain. Cavis led them inside a tunnel that stank of sulfur and felt very hot. Torches lined the rocky walls. Tezan’s heart quickened and sweat poured off him as he traveled deeper into the tunnel.

A few minutes later, they arrived at a makeshift laboratory set up inside a large, round rock chamber. The lab had its own glass foundry and iron works in the back. Steam vents full of sulfurous, bubbling water filled the place.

Stunned, Tezan looked around. Cavis had a wooden table with parchment documents laid out. Beakers full of different chemicals lined shelves that were carved into the rock.

“You’re a chemic?” Tezan said, shocked.

“That’s right,” Cavis said. “Old Man Givell was the one who built this place and began the research.”

Tezan vaguely remembered rumors of Givell. Apparently the old man had disappeared when the council sought to execute him for heresy.

“When I got hurt, Givell saved me from the cave in and brought me back here,” Cavis said. “After he died, I took over his work.”

“What work?”

“This.” Cavis reached into a small wooden chest and took out a Tallaris root.

Tezan gaped. Cavis had actually dared to pull the holy plant out of the ground.

“That’s heresy!” Tezan said.

“No, Tezan,” Cavis said. “This is our salvation.”

“If they find out–”

“Yes, I know. They’d skin me alive and burn me.”

“Or stone you,” Darjen said, his voice quivering. “Or feed you to a spiker–”

“Darjen!”

He grew silent.

“How could you do this?” Tezan said. “It’s goes against every teaching–”

“Forget all that heresy crap, Tezan,” Cavis said. “It’s all nonsense anyway.”

“You can’t say that!”

“Tezan, listen to me. Old Man Givell and some of our heretical forefathers did research into this root and found that it can give humans new mental abilities.”

“Like what?”

“Gates, Tezan.” Cavis tapped his temple with two fingers. “With the drug distilled from this root, we can open gates at will with our minds. And even more than that. We can have visions and know things beyond our senses–”

“I don’t believe you.”

Cavis smiled and said, “Step back.”

Though confused, Tezan did so.

Cavis concentrated on a spot in the middle of the lab.

A moment later, the space exploded with blue light. Tezan gasped and shielded his face with one hand. When the light faded, he dropped his hand to his side and blinked.

A gate appeared in the lab.

It’s true! Tezan thought.

Suddenly, though, the gate began to fade.

Cavis’ face turned deathly pale and blood gushed out of his nose. He let out a pained gasp and collapsed.

“Cavis!” Darjen and Tezan said.

The two teenagers rushed over and grabbed him.

“Easy,” Tezan said.

“Don’t talk,” Darjen said.

Cavis sagged in their arms and the gate faded with a faint burst of energy that made the beakers rattle.

Afterwards, gasping, the older man wiped some blood from his nose. “There’s something wrong with me. I’m too weak. I can open a gate, but I can’t keep it open for very long without killing myself.” He clutched his head, his face wracked with pain. “Ah, my head’s killing me!”

“That’s the gods punishing you,” Tezan said. “You ventured into realms where man was not meant to go.”

“If the gods didn’t mean for us to use Tallaris root, then why would they put it on the worldstrings in the first place?”

“As temptation from the fallen god Hargarnic. He wanted us to turn away from the true word.”

“You’re wrong, Tezan. Givell secretly opened up the last gate for the tribe.”

“No, he couldn’t.”

“He did. And he lived for forty more years after. The drug kept him alive and free of disease until his accident.” Cavis gestured to the root. “Now I need you to take the drug, Tezan.”

“I can’t.”

“Please.”

“Maybe we should just forget this,” Darjen said. “Another gate will appear.”

“No, it won’t,” Cavis said. He turned to Tezan. “If you don’t take that drug, everybody will die.”

“Then it is the will of the gods.” Yet even as Tezan said it, a heretical thought popped into his head: what if it’s not?

“I can’t do it,” Tezan said and stood. “I should report you to the elders.”

“Then you’ll doom us all.”

Tezan shook his head. This was too much to take.

“Let’s just wait,” Darjen said.

“We can’t wait,” Cavis said.

“I don’t know.”

“Tezan, please. If I’m wrong, then I’ll burn for my heresy. But I know I’m right.”

“Why me, though?”

“I had a vision of you saving us. I don’t know if it’s true or not – I’ve had some inaccurate visions in the past – but this is our most desperate time, and I have to believe in someone.”

“But, Cavis, I’m not a heretic.”

“If you want to save us, you’ll have to be.”

“I can’t turn my back on what I believe.”

“At least sleep on it. If you say no, then I will see if I can find another.”

“Doubtful that,” Darjen said.

“Shut up, Darjen,” Cavis said.

“Where do I sleep?” Tezan said.

“There’s a cot in the other room.”

“Very well.”

Distraught, Tezan strode out of the lab and into the next chamber where the flaxen cot was located. Tezan lay on it, his mind warring between Cavis’ words and Elder Yakuved’s.

What’s the right thing to do? Betray my religion and try to save us or turn Cavis in and wait for another gate?

His mind struggled for the right answer. After a few minutes, his fatigue overwhelmed him and he fell asleep.

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The next morning, Tezan awoke to several tremors. Dust fell from the ceiling. He walked into the lab and found Darjen and Cavis arguing with each other. As he did, he recalled the falling man.

His heart sank and he wondered, could he have lived if I made a stable gate?

Although Tezan didn’t want to turn against Yakuved’s teachings, he couldn’t see another choice. He had to risk taking the drug, even if it meant damnation.

Tezan walked up to Cavis and said, “I’ll do it.”

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A half hour later, Cavis had the drug ready. It was a vial full of clear liquid.

“Before you take this, there’s one other thing you should know,” Cavis said.

“What?” Tezan said.

“Before I came to Givell, he tried different formulas on a few heretics who volunteered over the years.”

“So what happened?”

“It killed nearly all of them.”

“Oh gods,” Tezan said.

“Four survived, but they got sick like me and eventually died,” Cavis said. “Two lived and could make gates without issue. But Galendrik was stoned to death for advocating heresy and Valkondra drowned herself in a river rather than be captured and tortured. Yakuved wouldn’t even give them a chance to show their power.”

“You’re not making me feel very confident,” Tezan said.

“You need to know the truth. Givell and I tried to remove the fatal effects from the drug over the years, but I can’t promise it will work.” Cavis held out the vial to Tezan. “I won’t force you to take it, though. The choice is yours.”

Don’t do it, Tezan thought. The god will punish you if you try. But a few did survive. Maybe you will too. Suppose I don’t, though?

Then you take a risk. Life is risk.

Trembling, Tezan opened the vial and said, “May the gods be merciful.”

Tezan swallowed the drug; it tasted bitter.

He gagged and dropped the vial, his throat tightening. His legs gave out and Darjen and Cavis grabbed him and laid him on the ground.

Barely able to breathe, Tezan seized in their arms. The dim, flickering shadows on the ceiling exploded with rainbow light. Tezan gasped as a great, intangible energy yanked him out of his body and into the light.

For an instant, time froze. After which, the light exploded into pure whiteness.

Tezan stared in awe.

Detached from his body, his mind zoomed out across the infinite cosmos. He looked down and saw billions of blue, green and white worldstrings orbiting billions of sun and moonstrings, all of them laid out from one end of the universe to the other like threads stretched across a cosmic loom. He reached out to touch the worldstring where his body dwelled, but he felt himself pulled away from his universe.

The energy yanked him into another universe, one of worlds and suns shaped like spheres, all spinning and revolving around each other in an endless, ethereal dance of luminance.

Standing beyond the edge of time and space, Tezan wept at the thought that existence could hold so much light and beauty.

Is this what the gods see? he thought.

In that moment, he felt that he could reach out with his hands, grab the universes and pull them together into one beautiful, cohesive mosaic of light.

A second later, however, a sharp pain exploded in his chest and head. He tried to scream in pain, but he no longer had a voice.

He looked down, his heart filling with silent dread.

Endless darkness lay beneath him.

No, I’ve gone too far, Tezan thought.

He tried to fly back home, but he was pulled forever into the darkness.

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Tezan lay dead in the cave.

“You said it would work!” Darjen said, clutching his friend’s body.

“I thought it would,” Cavis said, shaken. “I – I’m sorry.”

Cavis reached out for Darjen, but the teenager let go of his lost friend and ran sobbing out of the cave.

Heartbroken, Darjen stumbled across the land until his legs gave out. When he drew near a patch of whistlegrass, he collapsed and wept.

Tezan had been his only real friend in life, an orphan like him. He had stood up for him when no one else would give him any respect. He was more of a brother than Cavis had ever been, and now he was gone.

“Darjen, I’m sorry,” Cavis said. He put his hands on Darjen’s shoulder.

“Leave me alone.”

He shoved his brother’s hand off and trudged forward, heedless of his direction. At that moment, he wanted to kill Cavis or die.

But all he could do was flee.

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An hour later, he came upon Kallenis. She was beaming despite the rumbling ground.

Darjen sniffed and wiped away his tears.

“What’s wrong?” Kallenis said.

“Nothing,” Darjen said.

“Where’s Tezan?”

“I don’t know. He flew off somewhere.”

“Darjen, come quick. I found another gate.”

“Where?”

“Only a little way from here. It’s stable and I was about to check it out when I saw you.”

Although distraught, Darjen followed her. Like him, she disliked flying and preferred to walk whenever possible.

A few minutes later, they came upon the gate. Unlike the previous one, this one was bright blue and stable.

Tezan died for nothing, Darjen thought bitterly.

“Let’s check it out,” Kallenis said.

“I don’t know.”

“Come on. Don’t be scared.”

She grabbed Darjen and pulled him through the gate. As they traveled through the tunnel, time stretched out.

They appeared on a barren, endless plain made of amber-colored rock. In the distance two yellow sunstrings shone in the green sky.

Darjen breathed deeply.

Fire filled his lungs and his throat closed up.

The air is bad, he realized.

Panicking, he flailed around, his lungs burning.

Kallenis clutched her throat with both hands and dropped to her knees.

Darjen tottered and started to black out from the poisonous atmosphere. Barely conscious, he grabbed Kallenis and pulled her back through the gate. Inside it, they sucked in great lungfuls of fresh air.

Sometime later, they returned to the original worldstring.

All around them the grassy fields were burning, blotting out the sky with black, acrid smoke. Beneath them, the ground rumbled with terrible, apocalyptic fury.

We’ve been gone for days, Darjen thought. The worldstring is about to collapse.

Darjen’s stomach tightened.

“What do we do?” Kallenis said.

The Tallaris root drug. It was their only chance.

But it might kill me, Darjen thought. What else can I do, though?

Despite his fear, Darjen said, “I have an idea. Follow me.”

“What idea?”

“There’s no time to explain. You just have to trust me.”

He ran across the land till he found some flygrass.

“When I rise, steady me,” Darjen said.

He took Kallenis’ hand, and they touched the grass. As they rose, Darjen began hyperventilating. But Kallenis squeezed his hand and steadied him. He looked into her eyes, trying to remain calm.

“Where do we go?” Kallenis said.

“This way,” Darjen said.

He pointed north and she helped him fly back to Cavis’ lab.

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Back at the cave, Darjen and Kallenis ran inside the lab. When they arrived, they stopped. Cavis was lying dead on the floor, blood leaking out of his ears. An empty vial of the drug lay next to him.

With no time to mourn his lost brother, Darjen frantically searched the lab for another vial with the drug. As he checked, he flung aside a piece of Tallaris root.

“What’s that Tallaris root doing here?” Kallenis said, looking horrified.

“I told you, I don’t have time to explain,” Darjen said.

“But– ”

“Not now!”

Kallenis glared at him but remained silent.

After some more searching, Darjen found a vial in a wooden box. He took off the cap with shaking hands and looked at it.

I can’t do this, Darjen thought. I’m too scared.

The ground rumbled so much that he nearly lost his grip on the vial.

You have to, Darjen. There’s no other choice. So stop being afraid for one moment and do it.

I don’t want to die.

He sighed and remembered Yakuved’s words.

“‘True courage is not fearlessness. It is moving beyond your fear.’”

Do it! Darjen ordered himself.

Darjen drank the liquid.

A moment later, he gagged and dropped the vial, his throat constricting. Weakening, he dropped to the floor and seized.

“Darjen!” Kallenis said.

She ran over to him and struggled to hold his thrashing body.

Time slowed as Darjen’s seizures stopped. He held up his right hand to his face. Powerful energy surged up from his consciousness, imbuing it from a well of strength hidden deep within him. He could feel it as surely as the fabric of the universe around him. Rainbow light shined across the tunnel, drowning out the shadows.

The energy pulled his mind up into the eternal light, but he resisted its force, pulling back.

No, Darjen realized, the drug giving him sudden clairvoyance. That’s how Tezan died. He let himself go too far and couldn’t find his way back.

Time quickly resumed its normal flow.

Empowered, Darjen flew off the ground.

I can save my people now, he thought.

“Come on,” Darjen said.

He gripped Kallenis’ hand and flew with her out of the cave and across the plains of burning grass.

Darjen landed several hundred yards from the cave. There, he hid in the whitegrass and concentrated his power on a point in space. Pain sliced across his brain like a scythe, and he cried out. Still he forced himself to focus and look across time and space to find a habitable worldstring.

When he did, he formed a tunnel between it and the dying worldstring.

“Darjen, what’s happening?” Kallenis said.

“No time to explain. Call them.”

Kallenis took out her callgrass and sent a signal to the others.

Darjen groaned and struggled to keep the gate open. The pain in his head was so great that he thought his skull would burst. Yet he kept it up, knowing that he hadn’t the mental strength to try again.

All across the sky, the tribesmen came in. Kallenis hovered by the gate, urging them to go quickly. The people needed no urging, though. They flew through the gate as fast as they could show up.

One by one the tribe fled to the safety of the new worldstring.

Sweat poured down Darjen’s head and a bolt of pain made him lose focus. The gate flickered, but he forced himself to keep it open, struggling against the agony.

When nearly everyone made it through the gate, Darjen sagged in the whitegrass and the gate started fading.

He had done his job now and could die. Before blacking out, though, hands grabbed him.

“Tezan?” Darjen said.

“No,” Kallenis said. “But close enough. Come on. Let’s fly.”

With the last of his strength, Darjen drifted through the gate and blacked out.

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Sometime later, Darjen awoke to the sound of running water and looked up. He was lying on hard stones near a winding river. Orange whispertrees rustled in the wind, their leaves speaking softly like the voice of angels.

Darjen leaned up and groaned. Kallenis came to his side and held him.

“Easy, Darjen,” she said.

“What…”

“Everybody’s all right.”

“I…”

Her eyes narrowed. “I suppose you’ll tell me what that Tallaris root was doing back there with your dead brother.”

Darjen sighed. He had feared this moment would come. Knowing that he had saved his people, though, he was no longer afraid of the consequences. He told her everything and waited for her to call the others and accept his punishment.

When Darjen finished, she said, “That’s a shame.”

“What is?”

“That I don’t have any proof of your outlandish story. Otherwise you’d be in big trouble.”

“But it’s heresy. You have to tell them.”

“You saved us, Darjen. If not for you, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. Besides, I’m certain that the gods wouldn’t have put the Tallaris root there if they didn’t want you to use it.”

“So it’s all right?”

“I won’t tell if you don’t.”

She gave him a sly smile and held out her hand.

Smiling, Darjen took it, and she lifted him up.

“Come on,” she said.

Hand in hand, they went to join the others

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Fredrick Obermeyer lives in Upstate New York and enjoys writing science-fiction, fantasy, horror and crime stories. He has had work published in NFG, Electric Spec, The Fifth Di, Newmyths, Perihelion SF, Acidic Fiction, Manor House, Double Feature Magazine, the Destination: Future anthology, the Silent Screams anthology, and other markets.

“Worldstrings” (© Fredrick Obermeyer) was published in Issue 6 of Capricious. If you enjoyed this story, please consider subscribing to Capricious.