As long as it gets done

The water was up to his chin, but Shields held on to the rope he knew he’d wrapped around his hand. He couldn’t feel it anymore, not with the cold water, but he knew he hadn’t loosened his grip. If he had, then he would have been washed away.

He could barely hear Roland calling out his name. If he turned his head, he would have a mouthful of water. Instead, Shields screamed out his words without turning.

“Temp! She’s further down!”

Hopefully Roland knew what he meant. Shields would be fine. He drew on the rest of his strength to turn and reach for the rope with his other hand. He could save himself. Roland knew that. Roland would save Temperance, where Shields could not. Again.

Shields couldn’t see. Without being able to see, feel, how could he pull himself to shore with the hemp? He had to be able to see what he was doing. Squinting through the current, he tried to focus on where he knew his hands had to be. Once he thought he had seen it, he adjusted his left hand, wrapping his arm with the rope. Then he let go. As he wasn’t swept away, he assumed the best and repeated the process.

Save her, Roland. Like you always do.

Gritting his teeth, Shields made his way to shore.

A tale of souls

It was said that children of the earth had no souls. They were only made of the containers which housed them. A different race of beings that could be molded into any of the other more solid creatures of the world. For most, it was nearly impossible to tell the difference between the children of the earth and those they appeared to be.

“Why’s that?” Ling asked.

Jin shook his head. “Because they look the same. Weren’t you listening?”

“Then…” Ling rolled over on his bed and looked over at him. Jin didn’t look up from his book, but from his peripheral vision he could see the boy’s curiosity. His hair, messy from another botched haircut. His fatigue, from the work Jin had had him do today.

And, as Jin was one of the few mortals who could, he saw Ling’s absence of soul.

“What’s the point?” Ling finally stopped pondering to ask his question. “The only difference is not having a soul?”

“Some people would exclude those without everlasting souls as being real.”

Ling frowned. “Why?”

“They don’t ascend to Heaven. There is nothing after for them. They simply return to the earth.”

“Is there anything wrong with that?”

Ling tried to play that off, but Jin could hear the uncertainty in his wavering tone. Jin considered Ling’s death, his complete end. It disturbed him. “The sky encompasses all. The earth doesn’t take the soul. That’s all.”

Sitting up, Ling pulled his legs to his chest. His own concerns seemed to vanish as he thought. Jin didn’t know whether to envy him or not. “Would you sing an aubade for an earth child? When you finally get the cloth?”

“What would be the point?” Jin sighed, closing his point. “I suppose. If they asked me to in life. There isn’t much of a point for the song for those who’ve ascended either.” Ling smiled at him. “Now. Go to sleep already.”

There was no point in telling Ling what he was, if he didn’t already know. If he hadn’t caught on through this. Jin opened his book once again.

He was grateful to be older than Ling. Hopefully Jin wouldn’t have to worry about Ling’s afterlife if he died first.

Those outside the office

“What is this?”

Jay didn’t pick up the bracelet, because for all he knew there was some case that Robin had forgotten to tell him about. He would wait for the other man to explain before doing anything. It was a rather pretty thing, he had to admit. Blue flat stones, glimmering silver and violet when the light hit it correctly.

“What is what, Jay?” Robin had barely finished speaking when it sounded as though the rest of the air was driven from his lungs. Jay watched in awe as Robin scrambled over to the desk and snatched the bracelet up. “Oh! This! It’s a present!”

“A present?”

Jay almost chuckled, because the thought that Robin would buy someone something other than a meal he could also partake in was actually rather sweet. Then he realized what that meant. “You… is that for…”

“Oh, don’t tease, please. It’s simply a thank you, nothing more.”

“Then take her out for lunch.” Jay didn’t mean it, not really. Robin liked her. Jay didn’t think it was possible for Robin to like someone like that. His mind was filled too much with bothering Jay and food. He had long since gotten used to it.

“I did! Then she returned the favor! I don’t know what to do! But I thought she might like this. You know, for when she’s not swimming.”

Jay hadn’t considered this. She only appeared to like Robin as a friend and Robin had never given him the impression to see her otherwise. They were from two very different worlds and they appreciated those facts. But those worlds were a little too far apart for more than friendship. Jay hoped he was thinking about this too much and that Robin wasn’t setting himself up for disappointment. Even though her sensibilities would be rather good for him.

“Well, it certainly will suit her. You chose well, Robin.”

“Y-You really think so?”

“You know I don’t spare your feelings.”

Robin let out a sigh of relief. “Thank you, Jay.”

Jay clapped a hand on his shoulder. “Don’t forget we have a meeting at four.”

“Are you joking? The meeting is dinner at the Milosh! How could I forget?”

No matter how many times Robin surprised him, the baseline remained the same.

She was still quite impressed with his attempt

The most annoying sound in the world woke him up a full five hours before he even wanted to consider rousing. He pulled his pillow over his head and tried to ignore it. A hand rested on his shoulder as his wife caught his attention.

At least, whatever existed of his attention at this time in the morning. “Hmm?” She had said something, but he missed it.

“Your alarm is going off, dear.”

His alarm? He wouldn’t do that to himself. She moved the pillow off his head and he stared blearily up at her. “Whut?”

“You wanted to get up earlier today.”

He would remember something like that. “Changed m’ mind.”


She sat him up, like he was a child. At this point, he wouldn’t have minded. It was Saturday, a child would’ve been able to sleep in, right? “Really.”

“I’m making the bed anyway, for once. You can sleep in your chair.”

Like that, he was evicted from his bed. Sleepily he watched her work.

Then remembered why he wanted to be up at a normal time in the morning. “Great.”

Time to get to work.

This is what the future brings us – well documented ridiculousness

With a slip of a finger, he took a picture.

“What are you doing?”

He tried not to chuckle, staring down at his phone. “Nothing.” He should delete the picture, it wouldn’t be appreciated. Instead, he selected another app.

“Nothing nothing?”

“Playing a game.”

“Oh, all right.”

No one came to check him. Therefore, he got away with the most ridiculous picture of his mother in mid-yawn.

Returning to the horizon

Even without the horizon, time went on. As if the adventure hadn’t been an important part of their lives.

The ranger knew better. There was something about how it all ended that had never sat right with her. Going back home had been their only option, then. It was what she had wanted. The others too. The ranger wondered if that was really the truth. Or maybe it was all they could stomach after every choice had been torn from them. Leaving it to the monk was a choice, but it didn’t really leave them with nothing.

Finding the monk again had been harder than she had thought. Social tracking had not been her most utilized skill, but she gained some good experience this time in doing so. When people had set her in the right direction, when she had been placed on the mountain in question, her own talents finally shone. She headed up the slopes and found the only trail, buried in a late snow, which led to the once abandoned temple.

The monk’s work was obvious. The temple had a long way to go, but the monk had cleaned it up quite a bit. Without help, the ranger reckoned. She scraped her boots off on some rock before ascending the front steps.

“This is some ways from your prairie, ranger.”

Somehow the monk looked the same as she did before. The ranger shook her head, looking down with a wry smile. “Good to see you too.”

Slowly, the monk smiled back. “Care for some tea?”

“You have tea up here?”

“I am no slouch in preparing myself for the winter, my friend. Even when it lasts.”

The ranger followed the monk inside, to a small room which felt much warmer as an enclosed space. She settled on the shelf near a large basin and the monk eventually handed her a cup.

“I’ve missed you.”

It was not difficult for the monk to say that. She had always been the most honest of them all. The ranger didn’t know if that had anything to do with her religion at all. “It’s been odd, actually. I’ll admit I enjoyed having a human at my back.”

“Has it been hard without the deer?”

The ranger nodded. “I miss her most of all. She was old. I just wished she could have lived out the rest of her days at the edge of the forest.”

Their adventure had taken quite a few things from them all, let alone a satisfying conclusion.

Swallowing the rest of the tea, still hot, the ranger set the mug down beside her. “How about you? Preparing your mind and body still?”

The monk nodded. “A lifelong goal. How else can I better the world if I haven’t bettered myself?”

“How can you better the world when you’re so separated from it?”

The monk shrugged. “That won’t always the be the case. By the time I’ve internalized what my journey has given me, this place will be ready for visitors. This temple is not only my safe haven.”

The ranger did not follow completely, but also didn’t doubt the monk’s words. Staring up at the ceiling, she shut her eyes for a moment.

“You are here about the horizon.”

The ranger opened her eyes. “That obvious?”

“No matter how much you missed me, you wouldn’t have come all this way for anything else. It has been on my mind too.”

For a while, both women were quiet. “We missed something.”

“Obviously,” said the monk. “We knew that when leaving. What else was there to do?”

“No. I saw the barbarian.”

At that, the monk did look surprised. “He came to your prairie?”

“He didn’t know it was where I was. He didn’t see me. I almost didn’t recognize him. It was like he was a different person. He was a different person. I couldn’t approach him. Something… something is wrong.”

The monk shook her head. “It has been years, people change.”

“Our quiet barbarian? Barely would speak. Strong and calm? The charismatic leader of a band of assassins.”

The monk said nothing.

“He wasn’t who we thought he was. Which means who knows what he was capable of at the horizon.”

“You believe him capable of destroying the horizon.”

“I believe there was more going on there. I don’t know what. I do know that now I can’t leave it be anymore.”

For a while, they both sat in silence. Finally, the monk finished her tea. “You want me to come with you.”

“I need to finish the journey we began. I need an answer. What do you say, leader?”

The second tea cup was set down.

“Do I have to be the leader this time?

Showing effort

Kya and Temperance were not quiet people. To remain silent in this place of worship was uncomfortable, but Temperance knew how much more uncomfortable she would feel if she broke that silence. Kya’s usually impassive expression now included the occasional twitch of her lip. Temperance feared that she might actually speak. Kya’s religious practices included a lot more sound than Salimah’s did.

However, Kya remained respectful. Even when the air chilled from Salimah’s musicless dance. The shaking of her layered dress, made specifically for the winter, for the north, for her worship, shone like water droplets under the sun.

It froze Temperance’s emotions, little by little, into a state of calm she barely ever attained. Even Kya’s near smile finally faded into her regular expression, though with eyes that saw more in this ritual than Temperance could understand.

Beads of sweat appeared on Salimah’s cheeks, from the limited amount of her that ever could be seen from under her dressage. Her exertion outweighed her prayer. For the moment.

Then Temperance realized why she felt uncomfortable. It was not staying silent here, it was the fact this place was silent despite Salimah’s dance. No sound of breath, no sound of footfall. Her exertion was the prayer, the fact it showed rather than not was more impressive than if the appearance was of ease.

Kya placed a hand on Temperance’s elbow. She looked over at her friend. Kya made a motion that Temperance didn’t understand. She would have to ask. After.

Salimah continued to pray.

Shared medicine

“I hate winter,” the both of them complained at once.

Shui was almost overly startled by the echo of his sentiment. He glared over at Ling. Was he mocking him? But no, the kid looked as genuinely surprised as he was. “What?” Ling asked, as defensively as Shui had felt. “Is it ‘cause the girls have to wear actual clothes?”

Shui rubbed the back of his head. “What do you have to hate winter about? I thought you’d love to play in the snow.”

“The snow’s cold.”

Such a statement of the obvious. Shui rolled his eyes. “Duh.”

For a while, everything stayed quiet between them. When Ling spoke, it was much quieter than he had spoken before. “It’s cold. Everything’s cold. I don’t like the cold.”

“You chose the wrong person to hang out with,” Shui said, in reference to Jin. “But just stay inside. That’s easy enough.”

“Well yeah,” Ling muttered under his breath, not looking at him.

It was then that Shui considered how little he knew about Ling, before Jin had started taking care of him. There was a reason that Jin was taking care of him, after all. It’s not as if most religious student whatevers took care of any orphans. It was hard to think of Ling as an orphan. He didn’t act like Shui had when he’d been left all alone.

Some winters there was no “inside”.

“Well, you know the one good thing about it?” Shui clapped a hand down on Ling’s shoulder.


“Best time for mapo doufu. Let’s go.”

Just like that, Ling brightened up. He followed Shui outside with no hesitation. And while Shui knew he could solve most of Ling’s problems with winter without it meaning the same thing for him… As Ling started chatting up a storm, the winter seemed a bit louder.

The whispers went away.

Taking a chance

“Three minutes until-”

He wouldn’t listen to that. The security system shouldn’t have been telling him that. Then again, Robin wasn’t used to such levels of technology. He also wasn’t used to being told how long he had to solve a puzzle. Actually, what he was most used to was having to pull Jay out of a sticky situation. Failing this time, however, would lead to his death. Jay’s death. Something Robin didn’t think he could handle. Too much responsibility. For someone who was his boss, his best friend.

“Thimba, was it? Are you still there?”

Nothing replied to Robin’s tentative call. Perhaps it was just a computer talking now and this Thimba was long gone. Jay should have explained this a little more than not at all. Jay had never spoken about his past, now that Robin thought about it. Though he and Thimba seemed to share some sort of knowledge of each other, whatever that might be. Whatever that would lead to this right now. Robin was fairly certain Thimba was an escaped convict that Jay had helped catch at some point, before Robin had met him. That made the most sense. No one else other than a criminal would go through this to kill someone!

Well, that was the definition of a certain type of crime, anyway. Murder certainly wasn’t legal anywhere.

Jay was much better at keeping calm in situations of great stress. Robin would have put his life in Jay’s hands any time. Now he was worried he wouldn’t be able to return the favor. “Jay?” he called down, hoping the other would be able to hear him. Or was awake. Maybe not, maybe if everything was going to go badly it was best that he was unconscious. Robin couldn’t see him, but he knew he was there. The hatch was stuck and it would be a hassle opening it further. Especially with the limited time he had left.

There were two options. Stop the machine or get Jay out. Robin didn’t know how to work the compactor. He also didn’t know how to open it up properly and where to find a rope or something to toss down. He had three minutes to figure out one of these options and if he chose the wrong one he wouldn’t have time to figure out the other one.

“Jay?” Another useless call out to the person he needed to save. Unless Jay was already dead down there. Robin couldn’t stand it. He tried not to panic, but it wasn’t a decision his body wanted to allow.

There was nothing for it. Robin made a decision.