Hello

“So, where to today, Nick?”

“Back into the city. Want anything?”

“Just make it back” Felix chuckled. Nick and Felix embraced briefly. It might be the last time they ever saw each other. Nick climbed the ladder, heaved the trapdoor open, and went out into the world.

Nick always timed his outings for early morning. That would leave him a good 72 hours between the first light of the sun peeping over the horizon and the last glimpses of it disappearing. Hunters were more active during the night.

Nick checked his rifle and compass one last time before beginning his journey across the desert. Felix seemed to have been excited when he found it and presented in excitedly to the phlegmatic twenty- year old. It had grown on Nick, especially after one of the books he’d found had a grainy black and white photo of a boy no older than sixteen, crouching in what looked like a trench with a new one the spitting image of the one Nick was carrying.

As Nick ran, he checked off landmarks he’d mapped in his mind and on the old manuscript he carried with him. The gigantic arm with its torch lay in the dunes at the same place it had yesterday, and the day before that. His Geiger counter began clicking into life if he headed too far East. The coastline in the distance to the South had chunks torn out of it that looked a little too mechanical to have been carved by the ocean.

No sign of any Hunters. Repetition on Nick’s part had left him familiar with their ships’ search patterns, and how best to avoid them. Felix had offered Nick some stolen Hunter tech he’d manage to reverse engineer, but Nick didn’t trust it. What little came over Felix’s old HAM Radio painted a grim picture of Hunters descending on other settlements as if they knew exactly where to look.

After a few hours, Nick made it to the ruined city. Nick still marvelled at it. He’d gone back to the bunker with stories of it, only to be brushed aside as crazy. Others seemed to believe him but were terrified to hear about it. Felix had explained. Most of the hundreds of people who lived in the bunker had been born there, when the air above was still toxic, and most would die there.

Most who’d ventured outside never returned. Nick often wondered, out loud to Felix or to himself, what life must have been like before they descended from the sky. Were they the ones responsible for all of this destruction? Is that why they were so afraid of these Hunters? Felix had cautioned Nick to curb his insatiable curiosity and had tried to teach him what he could, from the few dusty old books he’d stopped the others from burning to keep warm. What few the old man had had only left Nick with more questions. Even as Nick walked, rifle raised, through the dust and tarmac of the ancient city, they echoed loud in his head. Who had lived here? How had they managed to build such an amazing place? What happened to the city? The people who’d lived there? Everyone else?

Nick made his way through the streets as quietly and cautiously as he could. He knew exactly where he was going. Down the first street he usually made it to from the desert, halfway down this one, through this alley, and down the stairs. That place, so chock-full of books Nick couldn’t have read all of them if he sat in that room for years upon years. How the albeit tattered books had survived whatever had happened to the city was a mystery, its answer likely hidden amongst their pages.

He froze. Something was out of place. He fixed his eyes on the far side of the street. A shimmer. Stealth tech. Dropping quickly behind one of the rusted hulks dotting the street, Nick caught his breath, looking above him. No airborne scanners? Must not be a scout, then. Nick sat against the old rusted car, his hands tight on his rifle. The street was quiet as a tomb, leaving Nick’s heart the only sound in his ears. No movement. They must not have spotted him. He got up slowly. Something was off. Nick looked down again. It couldn’t be. Clear as day in the centuries of dust at his feet. Two sets. Two sets of footprints. Hunters walked on 2 feet? The tracks looked human, as if left by someone with large feet, and a slight limp on the right. They appeared where the shimmer started and going…straight down the stairs. Nick cursed inwardly. He always made sure to cover his tracks leading away, but realised he’d never bothered to do the same inside, with all of the sand that had blown in.

With each step muffled by the layer of sand in the street, Nick followed the tracks, careful not to let his boot scrape and give away what little element of surprise he had left. Nick fought to control his breathing as he inched painstakingly slowly down the stairs. He made it into the room with no sign of the Hunter. Its tracks intermingled with his, endlessly crisscrossing the room. It must have been here for a while, and was surely lying in wait for him. Nick swallowed. This would be the closest anyone in the bunker had come to seeing a Hunter and living to tell about it.

Nick didn’t exactly have to share the space like his room in the bunker so he saw little point on returning anything to its previous position, so books were strewn across the shelves, tables, and floor. Nick looked to his left. The book of poems he’d been reading the last time he was here was gone. The one about paradise, how a snake tricked a man and a woman into betraying some ancient deity’s trust. It was, gone, vanished.

As the panic gripped Nick he heard the hum of an electromagnet and his rifle, his precious rifle sprang to life and wrested itself from his grasp as if turning against him. After the hum, Nick heard a series of clicks right behind him. Afraid to turn, he listened as the clicks quickened, then slowed, almost as a radio being tuned, then….

“Hello. I have been waiting for you”.

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The Glassmith Pt. 1

Her love was the waves. His, the dunes. Losing themselves in both had become both life and livelihood for them both.

“How was the catch today?” Rihat asked.

“My back aches from carrying the net to the cart” Lilith smiled

“So a good day, then?” Rihat asked cheekily.

“We’ve had better”. Lilith then smirked as she asked, “How was your catch?”

Rihat chuckled, “Grains of sand do not try and slip through my grasp as fish in a net. Only the wind helps them escape.” He trailed sand through his fingers as he said it. A light breeze carried the lightest grains of grit and rock into the air and out of sight.

“The sea obeys the wind as the sands do. Simply more violently”.

“Spend an hour inside a sandstorm and we’ll see if you feel the same way” Rihat chortled.

The two were on top of the dune. Their dune. It was one of four that formed a natural caldera. It was within easy distance of the city yet almost out of sight over the rolling sands. Habitually meeting there had made it so either of the two could easily traverse the stretch of desert between the city and this dune, blindfolded.

“Have you healed from your burn?” Lilith asked.

“It will heal when it’s ready. My master drives me hard. A single mishap can lead to such things”. Rihat unwound the bandage wrapped around his left thumb, exposing the flesh, still pink as the burn healed. “What of yours?”

Lilith held out her right hand. On the back of her hand, just before the wrist. A small hole where a chunk of her flesh had needed to be cut out, “It was my mistake and mine alone” she quickly spoke as Rihat looked concerned, “Baba always said to never cast your line against the wind, but the shoal was in plain sight and I grew impatient”.

“Over-hastiness is one of your flaws” Rihat smirked.

“An easier task would be counting the grains of sand in this desert than it would be to mention all of yours”, Lilith retorted with a smile. They sat in the sand, caressing each other’s hands. They were each covered in scars. Rihat’s callouses from burns long since healed. Lilith’s, a myriad of small cuts and bruises crisscrossed her palms and some of her fingers. They watched the desert as the sun began to set, the sky becoming alive with shades of orange and pink. As harsh and unforgiving as it was, the desert had its own beauty. From the swirls created by the drifting grains of sand, even to the scorpions and snakes, each leaving their own unique patterns in their wake as they moved. Rihat had come to love the desert. The two rose and made their way back towards the city, following the Euphrates back towards Ur.

The city was peaceful in the evening. The heat began to fade as the sky darkened and the moon appeared, casting ghostly reflections on the surface of the water. They bid each other goodbye and each returned home. The two embraced. They knew they wouldn’t see each other for another two days. After a lingering hug, the two went their separate ways. Lilith to her father’s house, Rihat to the glassmith’s.

Sometimes days could go by without the two meeting. This could happen when Rihat would venture into the desert in search of finer grains of sand for the glass, or Lilith and her father would leave for a longer fishing voyages as part of a larger group of fishermen. It mattered little to them, for though they missed each other (whether they realised it or not) when they were apart, such feelings were instantly gratified upon their next reunion. Whether atop their favourite sand dune, or in the city. Treasured memories the two shared and reminisced upon often, included afternoons and twilights spent traipsing through the city, getting lost in the market and marvelling at curios and wares that were novel or interesting to them.

The next morning, Lilith and her father boarded their vessel and sailed towards the ocean. Rihat waited to wave goodbye, another of their traditions. Lilith’s boat was mid-sized, but compact enough to be crewed by two or three while still being able to bring in a good catch. Lilith made a habit of standing at the very prow, whenever they started a new voyage. Rihat knew this, and would always be there to wave goodbye.

There she went. Rihat smiled to himself and busily hustled towards the glassmith’s, raring for another day of work. It felt like it hadn’t been long since the Phoenicians had come with news of a novel concept; the melting of grains of sand in a furnace hot enough to render them molten. Rihat could remember that day in the market, when the Phoenician merchant had exalted his wares, inviting all and sundry to see and touch, and marvel in delight. Rihat had been one of the first to see it. He had touched a vase. It was smoother than clay, yet it sparkled with a brilliance to put any painter to shame. From that day, Rihat had coveted the substance, and the knowledge of how to craft it. Luckily, the man who would come to be his master had it, and a lot of it.

“Rihat! Come! Look at this!” Having been a merchant by trade, Khaled’s loud voice was something of a trademark. It was a running joke between the two that it was a marvel he hadn’t rendered all their wares to dust with his booming voice. Rihat hunched over next to his master. The workshop was large, but the majority of space was dominated by vases, glasses, chimes, anything and everything the richer inhabitants of Ur could want to adorn their houses with. The furnace was behind the shop, built well and built of brick, it had and would continue to serve them well. Khaled spoke in wonder,

“On the other side of the quicksand pit. You remember, the one from our last excursion, three days west of here.”

“Yes master I remember”

“By the grace of the Goddess I traversed it without harm, and found this” Khaled proudly poured some a portion of sand onto the counter. “Look at this! White as snow, fine as dust. No impurities to speak of. With this, we shall make glass that will resemble the tears of the Goddess herself.”

Rihat stared in awe. His master wasn’t lying. White with the slightest tinge of grey as oppose to the usual golden yellow, this sand also felt finer, little to no rocks or quartz somehow. It was akin to the sand on the beaches in Africa Khaled spoke of visiting. He would surely be able to make glass of the finest quality with this.

 

“We have a good wind! If this stays we shall reach the fishing grounds within an hour!” Lilith’s father, Gashar yelled above the breeze. A crew of three today, Gashar and Lilith were accompanied by Minesh, another fisherman they regularly worked with. Lilith tied off the sail and returned to the prow, leaving the boat to crest the waves with the wind. She stood tall at the prow, the spray against her skin, the thundering crash of the waves in, the smell of sea salt filling her nostrils. She opened her mouth, feeling the acrid taste of salt on her tongue. Screwing up her face at the taste, she giggled to herself in a giddy daze. How she loved the ocean!

 

Rihat pulled the rod slowly out of the furnace, turning it as he did, leaving the molten sand curled around it. Checking briefly, and after an approving nod from Khaled, who was busy at work preparing ornate moulds for later use, Rihat returned it into the red hot coals to resume the melting. Dusting his hands, he began preparing the moulds. A vase first for today. Rihat couldn’t wait to see the fruits of his labour.

 

It had appeared on the horizon. No larger than a hand at first, the grey cloud seemed to have grown exponentially in what felt like a matter of moments until half he sky was grey-black. The boat was full of fish, weighing it down. Gashar cast a worried glance skyward and exchanged a nervous glance with Lilith. It was time to leave, though it was doubtful they could reach land before the storm arrived. The rumbling in the sky was already audible, yet still a ways away. Gashar and Minesh quickly turned the direction of the sail and made for land.

 

Rihat stepped backward and appraised his work. More cobalt next time. The colour was a pale aquamarine blue. It was beautiful, yet Rihat didn’t favour the hue. Khaled was in ecstasies, “Look! Hahaa, look! The quality is outstanding! You’ve outdone yourself today, Rihat. This will fetch a pretty price in the market next week.” Rihat nodded sheepishly in agreement. The quality was indeed exceptional. The curvature of the glass was consistent, and the thickness was consistent. Khaled continued rambling exuberantly, as he did when he smelled money, “Ohh yes. We need more, though! We must get more as soon as possible. We…” He stopped and looked outside. “Rihat, my boy. Try one more glass and then douse the furnace. A storm is brewing on the ocean. We must close up the shop so nothing breaks”. Rihat looked toward the sea. Khaled must have had very good eyesight. Rihat squinted for a moment to catch a sight of the dark clouds. He hoped Lilith was safe and had already returned. He would close the workshop and check in the town if the boat had returned.

Panic began flooding through Lilith. The storm had accelerated faster than any she’d ever seen. The boat was heavy with the day’s catch and listing slightly as it struggled to outrun the coming chaos. The waves roiled and undulated violently. Lilith was having difficulty keeping her footing on the slick deck. Suddenly, a wave washed over the deck. Gashar screamed something, but Lilith barely had time to collect her thoughts before her head struck the deck with a thud, and she was washed over the deck and overboard in a daze.

“Lili!” Gashar screamed. He yelled to Minesh, throwing him the other end of a rope. Tying the other end around his waist, Gashar lunged deep into the darkening waters to save his daughter from the waves.