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Chapter One - The Crack of Middrift

Sunday sighed. She bumped the elevators down button with her hip, giving an uncomfortable shuffle to wiggle the paper bags containing her groceries into a sturdier position in her arms. The handles had broken, practically the moment she’d tried to lift the heavy bags.


Why did all the female check-out helpers always overfill bags. One would think other women would understand that there were logistical issues to fitting four milk cartons into a bag, plus pasta, and sauces, and meat. But no—nope—it was only ever the men who asked if she could handle heavy bags.

“Obviously I can’t,” she grumbled. Sunday bounced again, trying to keep her grip on the bags. The elevator dinged and she shuffled into the empty box. The light flickered eerily. She used the heel of her shoe to punch level three of the parking complex.



Down like her bank account.

Down like her hopes.


Life had just been one steady, downward climb on aching legs, into a deep, dark pit of despair. She had utterly nothing to show for her thirty-odd years of living. Her childhood had been filled with dreams of apple pie baking, sweet summer dresses, marriage and family, picnics with friends, and long, slow walks along the beach with an average man of some description.

Such dreams had faded.

She wasn’t even sure if she knew what friendship was. Had she had any, or had they been fleeting, and flaky, and now just fragments in a life of regret. Perhaps she’d tried too hard? Perhaps she had squeezed, and hugged too much, and smothered those around her.

Or was it the opposite? Had she not hugged enough, and reached out when she shouldn’t have? Now she was just too afraid, and confused to even try.

That fault was hers—entirely—she supposed.

Marriage—marriage seemed impossible—and along with that, the desperate hope for a family had become dust. Thirty-something and she’d never dated. Goodness, she couldn’t even comprehend how! Did the world consider her pathetic, or was that just her own mind calling herself that?

That was what self-hatred did, it made her bitter, and angry, at herself. It wasn’t anyone else’s fault. How could it have been, she didn’t know anyone, and nobody cared.

It was all her—she had hated herself for as long as she could remember, and not for any particular reason either. Hatred stole dreams, smothering them before they could even germinate, leaving a barren and lonely life behind.

So what use was she—a burden to society—someone who tried, and kept trying, but failed over—and over—

So why was she even alive?

Sunday halted, staring over the edge of the parking complexes third story, into the night street life below. It was a lazy evening, there weren’t many folk out and about, even in the cooling temperatures that night brought in the dusty outback town of her birth.

This carpark was probably the largest building around. Would it be easy to just go up—up—and jump—down—down—

“I’m sorry, Dad,” she whispered. “I don’t mean that. I really don’t.”

Sunday managed a watery smile. She shook herself, trying to get rid of the cold feeling hanging over her shoulders. These were nasty, stupid things to be thinking about. Her father would not have been pleased by the irrationality of it all. She turned, clipping her way along the path, weaving between the rows of cars from the late-night shoppers. It had been a year since her father, Archibald Riverstone, had passed away. He had been the last remaining pillar in her life, the only thing that had held up the ever-collapsing walls she constantly tried to piece together to keep herself functioning.

One had to put effort into themselves first, right, before they could get out into the world—she had to make sure she was a rock in the storms of life—

It never worked.

She was always blown around.

And the hatred festered, the loneliness grew ever deeper, like a wound that never healed. If only she hadn’t insisted on doing everything herself. If only she’d stopped and asked for help from someone—



There was no one—

Her world was empty—



Always down into an endless, bottomless pit.

But even now, she could still hear her father’s voice; she just had to keep walking forward. There was always hope, even in the depths of despair, there was a glimmer of hope that something—somehow—would change.

And she had to be ready for it.

“I will be, Dad,” she whispered. “I will be.”

Jostling her shopping once more, Sunday fished out her keys from the pocket of her yellow dress. She halted, staring at her raised pink shoe about to step down hard on a crack in the concrete.

It had been one of those funny Dad jokes that she’d gone along with, her entire life. Ever since she’d been young, her father had made sure to point out every crack in the pavement, making a show of never stepping on them. It had been fun. They’d laughed. Even now, it brought a smile, just thinking of his brushy eyebrows lifting in amusement.

She’d ended up following his example, trying diligently to never step on cracks.

Sunday chuckled. “Just this once, Dad.”

Her foot contacted the concrete, and her second step slugged into thick, oozing mud that sucked her knee deep into foul smelling mire.

“What…the…” Her shopping scattered.

The mangroves—she was in the mangroves on the outskirts of town, right?

No. She wasn’t. Mangroves weren’t this enormous, towering like buildings, nor did their limbs glow a bright, unnatural, pulsing orange.

“Oh gosh.” She was sinking deeper into the foul mud. Struggling she reached for the nearest root, grappling for its stability, and dragging herself to denser ground. Still slick, still drenched, but at least she wasn’t at risk of sinking completely.

The air burned her mouth. It almost felt like she was breathing a thick liquid. Sunday blinked at stinging tears. A howl caused her limbs to seize up and she stiffened against the mangrove root, clutching at its bark, digging her nails into the damp flesh. Across the slickened surface of the muddy sludge, several hideous creatures tore towards her split shopping bags. A gangly cross between a fish and a hound, they slopped an oozing beige liquid between their scales that left a shimmering trail behind them as they moved.

Whatever they were, they could run on the muddy surface, and they were fast. They tore into her shopping. Fear propelled her to move, and she knew, even as her limbs began to shift, that fear was wrong. Immediately, the attention of the creatures snapped in her direction. Their eyes popped forth from their heads, dozens of black, beady eyes, staring at her, reflecting her fear back at her.

She froze again as the creatures dived in her direction. They surrounded her in formation, gurgling a sound somewhere between a howl through a can and rapid bullet fire. They dashed back and forth in excitement, biting and nipping, spewing more of the ashen tarry liquid over the surface of the bog. Sunday scrambled back, curling against the nearest tree, if it was a tree at all. Globes of dancing light dazzled through the mist. Lanterns, twirling in the murkiness, lighting the way for the vague outline of a boat like structure slowly easing its way through the fog. It was drawn forward, it seemed, by the calling of the hounds around her.


The word echoed in her head.

They were hunters, and she’d just been caught.

They prowled around her, a canine ecstasy in their wide, liquescent eyes. Sunday pressed back into the warm tree bark as a muzzle sniffed at her.

She muffled her cry deep in her throat. Odorous stench rasped from the mouth as it opened, revealing strings of thick creamy salvia and elongated teeth shining in the buttery mist.

She was enrapt, body flaccid as the engulfing large eyes of all four slim riddled fish out of water bent inward. Every muscle buzzed, yet her body refused the command to run. Her throat was dry, no scream dared part from her lips. There was just the twitching agony between her ribs as her heart raced and her ears rung, the high-pitched whine increasing. She wanted to faint, to black out. If she fainted they would leave, but even that luxury seemed to have been stolen right from her.

A crack of lightning struck the ground next to her, causing the creatures to squeal and howl, backing away, tails hung low. Sunday stared at her arm as blood seeped from the wound the lash of light had left. She hadn’t—she hadn’t even seen it—

Her fingers trembled as she wrapped her hand around the bleeding gash. The warm blood kept flowing.

Oh—oh this—this was real—

She could feel the pain—

It made her body buzz with a heightened sense of awe.

The boat had pulled up beside the mangrove. Through what appeared to be a curtain of glittering energy, an enormous figure, cloaked in a thick coat of some sort of animal hide, began throwing massive wads of meat at the fish-hounds. Sunday tucked closer against the mangrove, sucking in sharp, short breathes of the hot, liquid air. The boat held a dozen or so cages. Some empty, others holding an array of monsters she’d never have imagined. Turning from its task of feeding its horde of hunters, the tall, powerful creature manning the boat climbed out. It held a crackling whip. The thing that had shattered out the lightning. The ground seemed to shift around its large, webbed feet as it thudded its way towards her. Sunday looked up as it bent over her. From beneath its hood, enormous yellow eyes studied her. It grinned, revealing a set of ravenous, yellowed teeth, pointed like an alligator.

Her world folded into darkness.


Sunday jostled awake as her captor rapped its large, clawed hands against the top of her cage. It was a taunting technique. She was never left to sleep long, even during what she’d presumed to be night-time, her captor still prowled, mockingly disturbing her sleep. Since her mysterious miss-step, and subsequent capture, the alligator-man had continued a journey through the enormous mangroves, stopping only to capture other poor souls unfortunate enough to be hunted down by its ravenous pack of fiends. By the time all the cages were full, the mangroves were beginning to thin out, and a distant shoreline became a vague outline through the murky fog. She’d only noted it as a shoreline by the raggedy edges of snow-capped mountains, sometimes glinting a reflective sheen back at the eerie sky. It was not Earth’s beautiful, blue sky, it wasn’t even the velvet night, with a host of stars. This sky reminded her of a glass orb, almost as if they were inside a giant snow globe. Hence, there didn’t seem to be any day or night akin to Earth, but instead a mere dimming of the ghostly ambient atmosphere. If anything, they seemed to be in a perpetual twilight. She’d have thought it beautiful, where she in a different situation, and not curled up on the floor of a grotty metal cage, smelling of her own urine.

She’d gone beyond the point of being hysterical. It didn’t help. The irrationality of the entire situation felt like a lodestone in her empty gut. She wanted to vomit it up, but the urge to do so was just gone in the numbness of acceptance.

This was real—

Her arm throbbed with the pain of the open wound.

Her fingers were raw, her nails chipped. Her yellow summer dress hung off her shoulder by a single strap.

She had stepped on a crack in one world and landed in the mud of another. Did that mean she’d fallen through the crack? Had her dad been right all along?

Sunday wrinkled her nose. She pressed her forehead against the cool metal surface of the cage bars. Whether on Earth or not, she was still stuck in a situation she couldn’t change, only now, she was actually in a cage.

“I think I fell even further down,” she whispered. “How much further can I fall.”

Alligator-man drifted his boat into a bustling harbor. Sunday pressed against the bars of her cage, trying to gain a better view through the boats protective shield. It looked, and acted, like a fountain of water, draining down from several stems protruding out of the boats humming engine. Inside the shield, the air was easier to breathe, and had far less of an acidic taste that cooked her mouth. Outside, though, seemed toxic even to the strange creatures that dwelt in the world. Some wore masks, others wore whole suits that glowed with a miasmic illumination.

Sunday squinted at the figures strolling about on the heavy planks, suspended above the mire of the marshlands. No one looked human—humanoid yes—but that was about as far as the frame of reference went. It seemed most of the creatures within the harbour were of the alligator-man’s ilk, their suits crafted from heavy skins and plates of bones, tinted dark to blend in with the murkiness of the bog. However, there were a few outliners, tall, elegant creatures with long wispy tails and high, frilly ears, bore down by heavy chains, being directed about by burley beings in shaggy furs.


Not furs. They weren’t wearing the furs.

Sunday cringed back against her cage as alligator-man stomped past, slapping his lightning whip down hard. It crackled and popped, sending a jolt through the metal. She couldn’t resist the whimper that escaped her lips. The boat rocked as something heavy landed within it and she peered up at the large shadow that crouched over her cage.

A dog—no—a bear—

It motioned to her arm with a claw. Sunday glanced to her wound. Was it worried about her wound?

It barked. She knew that sound, it was universal, it was laughing at her. It motioned again. Sunday frowned, glancing back at her arm as it tapped its upper bicep. It was motioning to her tattoo. It was just a red tulip. They were her favourite flower, and since no guy had ever given her any flowers, her father had gifted her with the money for a permanent tattoo of her favourite flower, so she could always smile at it in the mirror each morning and remember him.


Did it mean something different here?

The dog-bear stood, causing the suit of mechanical armour it wore to hiss steam. Sunday winced against the rush of heated air blasted at her. The metal was just as grungy and dirty as the rest of the grotty harbor, stinking of the universal scent of slightly off fish and rotting meat. She supposed that smell never really changed, no matter what universe one fell into.

The dog-bear and the alligator-man devolved into an argument. Choice words were being said, if their body language was anything like humans. Finally, dog-bear shoved a glowing box into alligator-man’s chest, and with a hiss of steam, stomped back to her cage. She was dragged out. A metal collar clamped around her neck, its weight causing her to stumble forward, but she barely had a moment to gather the shock of its placement, as the chain connecting it was heaved. Her bare feet scrambled to keep up with the dog-bear as it stepped free of the boat and its shield. She had to climb and clamber after it, no matter the sudden heaviness and burning of the air. The world she had stepped into dwarfed her.

The harbour town dog-bear dragged her through teemed with bustling trade. The houses and shops built on stilts. Sheets of colourful flags, bright and festive, lit the streets between dazzling lanterns to brighten the ever-twilight. Amongst the noise and hustle, she saw the filth. Perhaps because she was being hauled through it. The tall, ethereal creatures, with the long tails and fox ears, hung their heads low as the weight of iron neck rings bore into their flesh. They were all being herded in the direction of a square, therein a raised platform had been built. Sunday’s throat tightened at the lines of chained creatures, waiting for the square to fill with the bustling bodies of the dog-bears and other far larger beings she wanted never to be confronted with.


This was a thriving slave trade, and she was in the middle of an auction.

Was she going to be sold—again—

Fear gripped her. She didn’t think she could feel it anymore. Hadn’t she gone numb—no—it twisted through her, choking her lungs, making her bloodied feet refuse the command to walk. The dog-bear snarled, shoving her roughly in the direction of a caged wagon. The surface between the bars glinted with the same eerie energy field as alligator-man’s boat’s curtain-shield. Sunday stumbled, landing roughly on her knees. Splinters shaved skin from her legs. She bit her lips, weakly managing to climb into the cage with trembling arms and slump into a heap. The door slammed shut behind her and she curled into a tight ball. At least the air was no longer trying to claw out of her lungs.

She hadn’t been sold again, but she’d gone from one cage to another cage. This time though, she was surrounded by the lean and graceful creatures with the fox ears. Some of them had their eyes gouged out, while others seemed only to have bandages firmly covering their eyes. There must have been something about their eyes. Dangerous? Was it like Medusa, and a single glance turned someone to stone? That couldn’t have been it, since the alien sitting across from her had the purest of crystal blue eyes. It was studying her, its focus seeming to shift back and forth between her tulip tattoo and her face. They were intense eyes. It almost felt as though she could feel them, inside her mind. It made her want to crawl backwards, away from the intrusion.

It touched its chest with a delicate paw. The white fur had long been stained, but once, Sunday was sure, it would have glistened like snow. “Cakrei.” It pointed to the dog-bear that had climbed up front of the cart. “Jouramine.”

Oh. Sunday blinked. Was it offering names?

The carriage jostled. She almost toppled over. The alien grabbed for her, keeping her upright as they began to move. She heard amusement rumbling from its chest and looked up, noting the warm smile across its curled lips. It raised a paw again, touching its chest. “Cakrei.”

Sunday looked to the dog-bear driving the cart. “Jouramine?” she hesitantly said.

Her head was given a pat.

The paw was held out to her with a quizzical tilt to its head.

She didn’t think it was asking for her name. It wouldn’t have given the name of their captor, that was far too personal of an offering for a prisoner to give—but so far, she was the only human she’d seen—so maybe—maybe it was asking what she was by telling her what they were.

“Human.” Sunday gave her chest a pat.

“Hu-man.” The long ears of the cakrei twitched. It smiled and nodded. “Hu-man.”

Sunday hugged her knees to her chest. Okay. So, she might have made her first friend in this fever-dream of hers. Maybe that was the start of things going up for a change. Her gaze shifted to the road they were taking out of the town. It seemed their destination was the mountains, tall and vicious looking in their sheer, glinting edges, flaked with ice and snow. A shiver goosed her skin and she tightened her fingers against the skin of her shins.

“Yeah, nah. I don’t think things are going to improve,” she murmured.

After their initial meeting, an exchange of names was eventually given, at least, she presumed that was what took place. The cakrei with the blue eyes called himself Kaiyō. He carved the word out on the wood of the carriage for her, but the language was completely foreign. But they had a written language, and it seemed vastly more complicated than anything her mind could have dreamt up with on a hospital bed, further cementing her in the truth that the world around her was extremely real.

It was also growing colder, the further into the mountains they travelled. Her bare toes and naked hands turning icy blue, soon going numb like her lips and nose.

Come here.

Sunday startled at the voice—no—wait—not a voice. She glanced around. That wasn’t a voice, it was more of a radio-wave, wiggling and jiggling in her mind and somehow, she was aware of what each high and low represented. It was as though an entirely new form of communication had made itself known to her—or—had she always known it and never used it.

Sunday, you’re freezing to death, come here.

Her name. The cadence was so soft, like a warm whirr. Sunday looked up, her frozen lips parting in a soft gasp as she faced the glistening blue eyes of Kaiyō.


He held out his paws, waving them in a beckoning motioning that was almost mockingly human.

“I…I don’t—”

No. Don’t use your human tongue. I cannot understand you. Just, let your thoughts sit. It took a while for me to match my frequency with yours, but I managed to tune myself to you.

Sunday blinked rapidly. Frequency? Tuning? Letting her thoughts sit?

Yes. Just like that.



She smiled. Oh? Telepathy?

Is that what you call it?

I…I don’t know, I don’t think it’s real on my world. Sunday crawled over to Kaiyō, her chain clanking at the movement. None of the other cakrei stirred from their stupor, nor did the jouramine leading the carriage bother to glance back. She supposed it considered them far to secure to worry too much about. Kaiyō’s arms encased her, his fur immediately warming, like a fleece blanket trapping in all heat against her skin. Sunday closed her eyes, dropping her head forward and burying her nose into the thick, abundant fur of his forearm.

You should sleep for a bit. We’re still a long way from our destination.

Sunday raised her head, rubbing at her blurry eyes. Do you know where we’re going?

It was a long pause. She shifted her gaze. Now that she was pressed up against the cakrei, feeling his breathing, it was so much more obvious just how much smaller she was. She even breathed at a faster rate. Did he see the world differently? Did his slow blinks reveal more or less detail, and truly, how did her appearance seem to him? The thoughts tumbled about, like a loose pile of sticks she couldn’t quite gather up neatly.

But perhaps that was what he meant by trying to match her frequency.

He chuckled suddenly, the rumbling sound vibrating his chest. Sunday supressed a squeak as he shifted, easily moving her into a more comfortable position.

Our destination is known as The Crack of Middrift, a prison for such begotten souls as ourselves.

A prison?

I am afraid so.

Sunday slumped against him. She closed her eyes. The tears finally overwhelmed her, leaking beneath her eyelids, warm against her chilled cheeks. There was no stopping them, all she could do was turn into the warmth and hope sleep would come. Sleep was at least blissfully ignorant in its encompassing darkness.

She woke to stillness. The cart had stopped moving. Every so often, a small bug was caught in the shield surrounding the cage, and the energy field glittered with a reminder that it was present. A fire crackled somewhere nearby, and Sunday was sure she could hear the sound of something boiling. Whatever it was, it smelt divine, and her stomach grumbled in protest, reminding her of just how little she had eaten. At least she was warm. She dared poke her nose out from beneath Kaiyō’s arm, only to hiss in protest at the bitter air. It had to be below freezing.

Kaiyō shifted, rolling stiffened shoulders. His chains clanked.

I saved you some bread, and some brew. It isn’t much, but it’ll suffice.

Thank you. It’s enough.

It might have just been some crusty bread, but it was heavenly after having not eaten in days, and the brew was at least balmy enough to heat the air around her cheeks. It coated her raw mouth with a smooth, velvet taste.

The other cakrei within the cart all appeared asleep, either curled up upon the wooden floor, or hanging by their chains in defeat. Sunday scratched at her own metal neck piece. The skin was already raw. How much longer before it began to bleed?

Kaiyō? Why are you all prisoners?

Kaiyō stirred. He lifted his head off the bars, raising a paw to rub at his eyes.

Hm? Oh. Ah. Most here are likely escaped slaves.

Slaves? Her chest tightened. So her assumption had been right, she had fallen into some sort of slave market. He motioned to her tattoo, then back to his own arm, where a long line of deep scars had marred the skin.

There is something known as the Three Strike Rule; three escape attempts land’s you either an execution, or a trip to The Crack, depending on the regulations of the region.

Sunday played with the handle of the large mug, frowning at the scars littering Kaiyō’s arm. The jouramine must have mistaken her tattoo for a branding of some sort. That was something she’d never have thought of, but she’d never have thought she’d ever step on a crack in the pavement and land in another universe.

You’ve got a lot more than three scars on your arm. She frowned.

Well, you could say I’m a very good climber. He sighed, looking away to the campfire beyond their cage. And each time I climb, I learn a little more about my true destination.

She could feel the deep ache of longing from him, as if it was her own emotions swelling up.



She squeezed shut her eyes, refusing the tears.

Are all cakrei treated like this? She asked.

Kaiyō glanced back. If he noticed her uneasiness, or her shaking hands, he didn’t comment. As far as I am aware. Yes. There was a war, several hundred years ago now. Our nation was conquered, our cities laid to ruin, our temples burned. I suppose we should be grateful we are still alive. His head dropped back against the metal bars, his gaze glassing over in defeat. If this can be called living.

She could sense it through the inflections of their matched frequency, the absolute despair that shadowed him. Sunday twisted her small hands around his paw, holding it tightly.

I’m so sorry.

You’ve lost your home too.

I couldn’t possibly compare my life to what you have endured.

No one is asking you too. He propped his chin against her head, giving a rumbling laugh. It is useless to compare experiences and lives. It leads to needless pain. Besides, you are an alien.

She stuck out her tongue. Thanks for the reminder.

You’re welcome. His amusement rumbled once more.

Sunday took another sip of the brew. The mug was so large it was going to take awhile to finish it. The issue was that eventually she would need to pee, and that was proving the most irritating of conundrums within captivity.

Oh, I have a question? She asked, deciding to distract herself from the mere thought of the toilet problem.

I’m not surprised. His lips lifted on their edges. She had the distinct impression that he had momentarily compared her to a child, constantly peppering an adult with queries.

Sunday motioned to his eyes. Why do some of the cakrei wear eye coverings, or have…ah…their eyes removed?

Ah. You noticed that macabre detail.

It’s a bit hard not to. Sunday shivered.

Kaiyō’s shoulders sagged. He raised a paw, covering his own eyes for a moment.

The jouramine remain very wary of my people and a skill we possess. There are some of us, known as Synthesisers, who are uniquely talented. In ancient legends, it is said, that if one was to take away a cakrei’s eyes, they could take away the source of the cakrei’s power. Thus, the jouramine have been removing our eyes, or masking our eyes, for centuries, in fear of the few with these skills.

That’s horrible.

It is. He suddenly grabbed her chin, blue eyes pinning her with an intense glare. Which is why you must never, ever reveal that you are capable of synthesizing. Do you understand?

You mean, what we’re doing, now? It’s…it’s one of those talents.

He nodded.

Ok…okay…I won’t.

This is important, Sunday. Synths are deeply feared amongst the jouramine for what happened during the Cakrei Wars.

I promise. I’ll be careful. She affirmed. It seemed important to him, and she was new to this alien world, if he deemed it important—then it was perhaps vital she absorbed the advice.

It seemed to take days for the mountain climb to come to an end, and by then, their one cart was joined by several more that ferried additional dispirited cakrei. Their destination seemed to be an enormous grey building that tilted on the edge of an enormous and sheer crack through a valley within the mountain ranges. It had all the impressions of a giant, having dragged a knife viciously through the surface of the earth, leaving behind a bottomless fracture. Had she perhaps ventured here with her father on a hiking trip, she’d have found it beautiful, with the snow-capped trees and outcropped ledges providing ample spots to camp near shimmering mirror lakes.

But the scene bespoke only terror, with several tall chimneys rising out of the grey building, billowing foul smoke into the deadened cold air. Sunday’s fingers tightened around Kaiyō’s arm. His frequency was unstable against her mind, and that chilled her more than the temperature outside of the comforting heat of his fur. He was just as anxious, just as afraid, as she was—perhaps—even more so if the frantic wavering she could feel from within like a new sense revealed anything. She tried to patch through her own melody, hoping the two waves would at least form a stronger pattern.

His arms tightened around her.

Thank you. His wave undulated with a boost of gratefulness.

Their cart jerked to a halt in an ash filled yard. Their jouramine driver tauntingly dragged his gauntlet across the bars in loud, jarring clanks. Each vibrating clatter tensed Sunday’s shoulders tighter, pressing her deeper into Kaiyō’s chest. The jouramine heaved open the cage doors, leering with rows of yellowed teeth. It grabbed for their chains, heaving them up.

Sunday jerked forward.

Don’t resist, it only causes more harm. Kaiyō urged.

She had to uncurl from his warmth. Her bare feet stepped out onto frozen ground, crunching into ice. The air bit into the rawness of her wounds. She’d never known her bones could ache so much. Kaiyō held her upright as she staggered forward on trembling legs. The jouramine snorted in their direction as it stomped past, yanking hard on the chain connecting them all in a single line.

Follow, Kaiyō prodded her back.

She didn’t want to. The building was going to swallow her, and never let her out. Several more jouramine guards joined the driver, dressed similarly in their heavy plates of iron armour that hissed with hot steam from their movements. At the prodding from the tips of the halberd’s they welded, their small progression waddled through the menacing entrance into the loud, organised chaos within.

This is a sorting facility. Remain calm. Kaiyō glanced around at the gathering of cakrei being shunted through different swinging doors.

Sorting? Sorting for what?

Those who shall end up in The Crack, and those who will not.

Sunday clutched at his arm. And those who aren’t intended for The Crack? What about them?

Kaiyō’s blue eyes studied her. Do you truly want me to answer that, do you?

No. No she didn’t. Sunday swallowed her saliva. Beyond one of the swinging doors lay the heat of burning furnaces where a smell she’d have once equated with a family barbeque now churned her stomach.

If she ever did see cooked meat again, she was never going to touch it. Her arm was suddenly snagged. A jouramine twisted at her chain, unlinking it from their group, and with a hiss of steam, she was torn from Kaiyō’s side.

“No!” She screamed. “No! No!” She grappled for the cakrei, the only solid foundation she’d found in the turmoil since she’d miss-stepped. He was jostled into another line by several halberds.

Sunday! Don’t be afraid. His blue eyes burrowed into her as the tone of his frequency increased, making her head burn. The change you have always hoped for has arrived. Walk into it. Be brave.

Kaiyō! Please, don’t…don’t leave me. I don’t…I can’t…be alone again…

Emptiness—no—a dull static, as if a radio station’s dial had been switched by a single digit and she was left with nothing but white noise. She sunk against the jouramine guard in defeat as it hauled her across the compound’s stone floor, dragging her bare feet over the already bloodied rocks. With a huff of frustrated air loudly snorted between its nostrils the jouramine hefted her into a large cage that jostled from their combined weight. Sunday slumped to the ground, running her fingers over the cold metal floor.

She peered through her frazzled hair, watching as the jouramine punched a large button on a faintly glowing panel, and several metal doors began to close. With a shutter and a crank, the cage jerked, before it began to slowly move downward.

An elevator—

She was in an elevator—

And she was going down—down—


Darkness swallowed them, until the faint orange lights on the elevators ceiling flickered on. They rolled on past what seemed like miles of rock walls, downward—forever downward—into an ever-increasing silence that swallowed her soul. She had no way of knowing how long their journey downward took, but it felt like hours. Her legs eventually grew entirely numb and any shifting to try and bring life back to them caused the jouramine to press its halberd against her neck in threat. It almost seemed as though it was attempting to keep her close to its bulky, hissing armour. So, she stared, blankly, at the rocky surface beyond the elevator, steadily counting in her head each carved rivet in the chiselled stones. She barely noticed the elevator clanking to a halt, so entrapped in her self-imposed repression. The jouramine heaved her up and she struggled to hold her own weight on numb, useless legs that refused to walk. Ignoring her plight the jouramine’s sharp nails daggered into her flesh as it dragged her through the elevator doors and down a twisting corridor carved into the rocks. A series of neon blue lights directed them to a doorway into a dark circular room. It smelt of thick oil, reminisce of her father’s old shed in the backyard. It had always been a place of safety. The smell comforting, just like his large, calloused hands that had swept Sunday up to twirl her about.


Why here, in this terrifying darkness, near crushed by the immensity of the weight of the guard holding her, was she so suddenly overwhelmed by the thought of her father, chipping away in his shed.

The jouramine behind her spoke, causing her to wince at the roughness of its voice, and how it seemed to shake her very bones.

Something shifted in the darkness. Screens blinked on. Computer screens. Haloing the round room in a manic pattern. Their light revealed a chaotic mass of cords and dull crystals, with glass tables littered in what appeared to be trash. Sunday peered through her mud caked hair. Cola cans were stacked high, along with hundreds of instant ramen noodle cups.


Ramen noodles?

Was she still on Earth?

No—she had stepped on a crack and fallen into another world. Had pieces of Earth fallen through other cracks?

Familiar images flickered on the screen in front of a small figure hunched over on a chair. It barely moved, but it spoke an order that the jouramine seemed content to obey. Her arm was grabbed again.

“Wait!” Sunday cried out, struggling hard against the jouramine’s grip, ignoring the blood soaking into her summer dress. “Wait! That’s an anime! You’re watching Attack on Titan! That’s Attack on Titan!”

“Halt.” The pinging voice filled the stuffy room. Sunday flinched as several of the crystals flickered with an inward glow at the word.

From beneath the heavy black hoodie it wore, the creature’s red eyes shifted, seeming to finally look at her, instead of absently beyond her, or through her. Now it focused, and its eyes seemed to grow several sizes larger. Mechanical. They were lenses, like a camera, and even their blinks carried the softest sound of an old shutter clicking. Sunday hissed up at the jouramine as its claws only tightened on her arms, as if it was irritated by the stalling of its task.

The creature dispassionately returned to its screen, tucking itself tightly in its chair. “I’ve changed my mind. Take the specimen to cell 899,183,056.”

She heard English, but she was confident that was not what it spoke.

Sunday felt the momentary hesitation in the jouramine as it stepped backwards, only to shuffle awkwardly. An aluminium can flew past them, smashing into the nearby wall. It erupted, releasing a burst of carbonated drink into the air. The creature stood on its chair, crackling whips of energy burning out of its shoulders, forming the illusion of wings.

Fairy. Sunday stared at the delicate creature, dressed in a saggy black hoddie that reached tiny, slim knees. There was no other word she could think of—it was a fairy.

It shrieked something at the jouramine. Sunday choked as the chain about her neck was grabbed. The jouramine hauled her backwards, out of the room, away from the furious fairy, the bright screens, the taste of cola—and away from the warmth and smell of oil.

Her muddy skin clammed with an unbearable chill as she was dragged into the rickety metal cage of the elevator, and left to slowly sink to the riveted floor in a trembling heap again. Once more, she began to head down—down—down—

Into a hole—

A crack—

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